Ushering in a new age of bionic men, women, boys, and girls.
Have you ever had one of those times when things you read from disparate sources seem to portentously come together?
Take this recent RomeReports UK Ministry of Defence study that makes a number of interesting predictions about what the world will be like in 2045. Among the possible new realities: that “people will be able to alter their physical appearance, personality and psychological traits, with high tech implants.”
From portable technology that we wear externally to technology that goes wherever we go because it’s inside us, you would be forgiven if, especially after watching the movie Limitless, your imagination takes flight with unsettling scenarios of psychological alterations, all at the press of a button or secreted at regular intervals by the implanted devices. Indeed, walking biobots powered by muscle cells and tiny enough to dwell inside the human body have been developed for drug delivery, surgery, and as platforms to host smart implants.
Can devices like these be tampered with by unscrupulous individuals in ways even more invasive than how some pacemakers can currently be hacked into? Will tech implants make us better, stronger, faster — ushering in a new age of bionic men, women, boys, and girls — a class of super-abled individuals who, over time, will become the new norm for what it means to be human?
Many of these technologies aren’t created with the motivation to rob us of our humanity. Marshall McLuhan described media technologies as extensions of man, so wearable technologies like the Oculus Rift and Google Glass have the potential to extend our virtual reach and connection with information and with one another. But the constant streaming notifications at the periphery of our vision can be distracting and yes, stress-inducing.
This has led to a “Mindfullness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)” fad that has nearly 1000 MBSR certified instructors in almost every state and more than 30 countries teaching folks how to avoid multitasking, filter out irrelevant information, and lead stress-reduced lives. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley is a hotbed for MBSR classes and conferences. As the old saying goes, just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Balance is key and the Catholic Church documents remind us: media technology is gift of God, which means that we have been given the gift to share in the creative power of God. Technologies exist because we create them with this gift.
So when Pope Francis encouraged the use of images in the media to spread the Gospel, he spoke of the “power” of images to shape the “experiences, hopes, and concerns of rising generations.” That is especially pertinent given how easy it is to alter images right from our smart phones. We live at a time when not only is the word “Photoshop” being used as a verb, but when I show my students a particularly impressive image, their first reaction is to ask how it’s been Photoshopped. Don’t get me wrong: I teach Photoshop and I’m all for using Photoshop well, but the irresponsible alteration and modification of images brings with it a whole slew of repercussions, not the least of which affects the image we have of ourselves.
Indeed, perhaps a little late to the game, but a welcome move nonetheless, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lethinen and Democratic Representative Lois Capps have recently joined forces to emanate a bill to regulate excessive Photoshopping. The Bill is entitled H.R. 4341: Truth in Advertising Act of 2014. It states:
In general not later than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Federal Trade Commission shall submit to Congress a report that contains –