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What Will the World Be Like in 2045?

What Will the World Be Like in 2045 James Vaughan

James Vaughan

Eugene Gan - published on 07/25/14

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 –

1) a strategy to reduce the use, in advertising and other media for the promotion of commercial products, of images that have been altered to materially change the physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted; and

(2) recommendations for an appropriate, risk-based regulatory framework with respect to such use.

It’s good to know that various groups, including advertisers, news agencies, and The Eating Disorders Coalition are rallying support for the bill. At the very least, given the power of images to influence a generation’s and an individual’s self-image and identity, this is much needed dialog that policymakers and the media need to have. Image alteration raises real concerns about identity and security. Who are you? Who do want to be? Not too long ago, these were ordinary questions that, growing up, you would expect to ask.

Today, it’s not so straightforward. Motivations are muddied as talk of transgender identities are introduced in our public schools. Activists with an agenda to tout are proposing that the male-female distinction is irrelevant, meaningless, and doesn’t even exist. Gender isn’t created by a god, they claim. We created these artificial distinctions. “You can choose your own sexuality” is the message being promulgated in the classroom. Transgender, homosexual, bisexual, gender queer, it’s all an individual’s choice. Experimenting with cross-dressing isn’t the reason why we send our kids to school, but now children’s books featuring cross-dressing behavior are being introduced at the elementary school level.

Teacher-training hasn’t been spared either. Lunch box programs introduce teachers to homosexual activism under the umbrella (guise?) of anti-bullying campaigns. Training cards that feature titles like “Deconstructing the Definitions of the Family,” together with discussion questions like “How can we fight the traditional definitions of the family?” move this exercise out of the licit anti-bullying grounds and into a pro-homosexual behavior arena with anti-family agendas at its core.

The confusion doesn’t stop there. Repeatedly checking our smart phones to see what others are saying, coupled with the persistent fretting about missing out on something better is stirring a restlessness and insecurity that craves perpetual validation. More troubling still, our children are killing themselves because of problems they face online, the latest reported in this Time article, "The Anti-Social Network."

Are we turning ourselves into brands, inflating ourselves and who we are as we carry around hundreds of selfies in our pockets? I don’t think heaping the blame on Millennials alone is fair. For that matter, it’s not just about Facebook anymore. One Princeton study predicts that Facebook will lose 80% of its peak user base by 2017. Another, this one from the International Business Times, notes that Facebook has seen a “decrease in activity amongst teenagers”. Specifically, “3.3 million American users ages 13 to 17 years old have left Facebook since 2011, as well as another 3.4 million people who are 18 to 24”. Why? There are a number of factors, but the increasing presence of parents on Facebook and the fact that Facebook “just isn’t cool anymore” play a significant role.

It’s like a conspiracy theorist’s wall that’s covered with push-pins and a web-work of strings that keep connecting and cross-linking, sometimes directly, other times circuitously back to a misunderstanding of our digital culture. Our lives hold meaning not just for ourselves, but corporately as well — affecting and influencing others around us. “A network of people,” is how Pope Francis described it in the 2014 World Communications Day message. This is not a recent observation either. In the 1830’s, Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and historian, wrote the following after an extensive visit to America (read it in context of the times and also in light of the digital culture we live in today):

The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest — his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not — he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

What will the world be like in 2045? The fact is you have the power to shape what our lives will be like then. Every choice you make, every purchase you make, every dialog you have has an effect on our future. Choose well. Now.

Dr. Eugene Ganis faculty associate of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life and Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville. His latest book isInfinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media.

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