Social media are changing the lives of billions of people worldwide. They are bringing them closer together, allowing them to create and maintain a material representation of their thoughts, identities, memories and relationships and aiding the proliferation of cultural ideas.
This is all thanks to the social media revolution, which is bringing a fundamental shift in the very way humans interact with each other. In some ways, we are seeing technology improve, and sometimes even replace, some of our social and cognitive functions. Some are even calling it the biggest transformation in social relations since the industrial revolution.
In light of this reality, could it be that social media are paving the way for to a transhumanist future – a future where improved technology is sought to fundamentally enhance our lives?
Transhumanism is defined (by nothing other than Wikipedia) as “an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.”
Examples of transhumanist thought would be to encourage medical and technological advancements to elongate lifespans – or fend off death as long as possible – and improve the quality of life in general. These are – to lesser degrees at least – already the goals of the modernisation process; and, as we can see in more “modernised” societies, people tend to live longer, healthier and generally more affluent lives.
More than this, a transhumanist would be interested in technological or cultural advancements which benefit the social world – our interactions with each other – so as to achieve a utopia of sorts where everyone gets along. In this light, could the contemporary explosion of social media as huge impacts on our daily lives just be a natural step towards a transhumanist future? Consider the following video from PBS’s Idea Channel:
Facebook can now be viewed as, quite literally, a physical extension of our identities and personalities, for all the reasons expressed in this video. It is making identity formation a much easier task, and allows us to make better judgements of the personalities of others.
It’s becoming common practice to search people up on Facebook to determine their character, which is even increasingly being used by potential employers when assessing whether someone’s right for the job at hand. This makes impression management a much more straightforward, uncomplicated task too; equally, it makes us more accountable for our past actions, a reality Paris Brown recently found out about.
We can now offload “the less pleasant parts tending to your own memories” to an “imagified ultranet digital version of yourself” that is our Facebook timeline, as expressed in the video. We now no longer need to rely as much on our own cognitive capacities to hold memories, as we can just let Facebook do that for us. Or we can just open up an account on Instagram and take photos of moments we think are significant, and share those momentous occasions with everyone else.
As for thoughts and ideas, social media like Facebook, Twitter and blog sites like WordPress are effectively retaining all the information and ideas we pick up on a daily basis. They also allow for us to share ideas and thoughts with people from around the world, improving our knowledge-bases as well as those of other people. And the more that more people know, the better it is for everyone.
Social media are also making it easier for us to find like-minded people and feel a sense of belonging. Through groups and “like” pages, as well as forums, blogs, hashtag handles and Twitter lists, people are able to communicate with others from around the world who share the same interests with them. Never before have people been able to physically codify and easily access different communities and feel accepted into in-groups. This becomes even more fascinating when you consider this all happens via the elimination of stigmas and stereotypes based on physical looks, as it becomes harder to judge a book by its cover, so to speak, when you can’t actually see the person you’re communicating with.
Along with this, social media are helping proliferate culture. Through the sharing of videos, music, images, memes and gifs, articles, fan-pages and ideas in general, social media make it easier for people to create, share and receive cultural items. The very concept of a “meme“, that it is a “unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices”, is literally embodied in the digital kind of meme that’s transmitted across social media. So not only have social media been the technological extension of our psyches, our personalities, emotional states and our social and interpersonal relationships, they have also transformed cultural fads into pieces of technology.
In other words, social media are a form of technology that is intended to simplify and smoothen out our psycho-social and cultural activities. In so doing, they are a form of technology made to enrich our lives, not just in some simplistic sense that they’ve made social interaction more convenient and straightforward, but in a deeper, abstract way in that they are technological extensions of our psycho-social selves.
In this light, the social media revolution is quite possibly paving the way towards a transhumanist future. It is teaching us that it is acceptable to use technology to transcend physical and social barriers and in this way improve our standard of living. It is encouraging us to think that technology may even be necessary to help us reach our full potential as human beings.
It raises the question, why rely on our faulty memory and cognitive functions when we can instead let a hard drive store all our memories and thought-processes for us? (Perhaps it’s sending us on a slippery-slope towards neuro-implants and artificial assistance…) Seeking technological advancement is, after all, a behavioural adaptation; it is a natural behavioural inclination intended to improve our ability to survive and procreate.
Of course, there will always be problems and conundrums with letting technology play a bigger role in our lives. And existing social problems such as (but not limited to) bullying, stalking and fraud are not only apparent but at times even accentuated on social media.
People are also beginning to question whether we should rely on technologies to socialise and share ideas. There are concerns social media are making us lazier with language and communication and destroying our interpersonal skills. More than that, there are fears social media are creating a massive nanny-state where everyone is scrutinised for what they’ve said and done, as I touched on earlier, and how they identify themselves.
In this sense, it is hard to imagine transhumanism and the never-ending pursuit to advance our technological capabilities, can ever eradicate our vices and the negative elements of the human condition. This is certainly food for thought as we move forward into the future.
But what we can see is that social media, along with many other technological developments which are altering the way we live, is making humanity more accustomed with using technology to help us evolve.