I’ll admit I haven’t been in the best mental state for the past month or so. You may have noticed from my last few posts. There’ve been a number of contributing factors to it, but I’m fairly certain I’m out of the worst of it. Between channeling the angst into a variety of creative outlets and being back into the rhythm of schoolwork, I’ve gotten back the motivation I need to put effort into this blog. So I’m starting the new year in an optimistic light, and I hope that carries through to the quality of my writing.
So if you were expecting a pessimistic rant about how humans are going to end up evolving into fat, lazy animals that barely lift a finger to help themselves because of the advances in comfort and technology, then I’m sorry to disappoint. Or, rather, I’m not sorry, because that would have been a terrible thing to write about, especially since it’s not going to happen. The world does not have the resources necessary to promote that lifestyle across entire countries, and though the human race may be one of the laziest species on the planet, it isn’t quite that lazy. I even heard a story just the other day that the obesity epidemic in the U.S. may have reached its peak. Now, I’ve never taken a class in statistics, and it’s by far not my favorite field, so I don’t know how accurate that assertion may be, or even if it’s proper to make such an assertion, but it’s only what I’ve heard. Take it however you want. My point is; the standard of beauty for the foreseeable future is going to continue to be ‘thin.’ We’re going to continue to be bombarded by fit-looking celebrities and models, gyms are going to continue to do good business, and most of us are going to keep trying to stay physically fit.
Why? Because it’s healthy. It’s true that the media’s standard of thin-ness is fairly exaggerated, and sometimes to an unhealthy degree, and we should continue to teach our youth that body weight is not a measure of beauty, but the fact remains that those who take care of their bodies are going to live longer, healthier, and, most likely, happier lives. But enough on that. It really doesn’t have much to do with evolution, anyway.
I’m not entirely sure what sort of useful mutations humans may develop in the near future that would benefit the race as a whole. I mean, an extra arm would probably be nifty, but that’s not really plausible. I don’t know enough about medicine to say whether supposedly useless body parts like the appendix and wisdom teeth are going to go away. I do wonder, though, whether our constant use of our thumbs with all our mobile devices and whatnot is going to cause them to become more elongated and dexterous like the rest of our fingers. Upon consideration, that would be pretty weird, but probably useful to a point. Another trend that probably deserves consideration is height. It’s fairly well-known that people today are taller than in previous centuries. The main theory for this is that the increase in standard of living allows us to lead healthier lives and diets, which allows us to be physically healthier and achieve more growth potential. But I wonder, perhaps, if we might see a reverse in this trend in the future, as overpopulation forces us to take up less space. It’s not likely, though, that we’ll see anything like that for quite a number of years. Just thought I’d toss it up for consideration.
On a more neuro-physical note, I ran into this story recently (on further consideration, it may not have been that particular story, as that one is dated 2008, but I can’t seem to find the one I most likely heard, if not that one), which got me wondering whether our brains might evolve to the point at which we can accomplish true multitasking. With all the technology around us, we’re constantly doing multiple things at once (for instance, I’m writing this while being forced to listen to loud music from the neighboring apartment), but our brains can’t actually process two tasks at the same time (hence why I’m not writing very efficiently at the moment, because my language processors are attempting to make sense of the music instead of forming these written words). But we’re constantly doing this sort of quasi-multitasking, so perhaps we might get to the point at which our brain is able to process incoming and outgoing language at the same time, sort of like circular breathing, but with words. Which would be incredibly cool. I’m no neuroscientist, so I don’t know whether that’s a possibility, but it seems to me as if it would take, in the very least, some serious rewiring.
I think it’s also important to, along with this discussion on physical evolution, address the mental and social evolution of our species, because they progress at a much faster rate, and, in my opinion, have a much greater impact.
One of my greatest fears for the future of the human race is that the anti-socialization of western culture that seems to be occurring will continue to even more extremes. It’s why I don’t much approve of social networking sites (as they are currently used by most, I should add), and it’s why I will most likely never own a smartphone. Don’t get me wrong; social networks are extremely useful, but you have to actually use them for something. From what I see on Facebook, a good deal of communication is, if not pointless, then terribly informal and impersonal. We live in a culture that prefers to communicate through devices rather than face-to-face, and that’s not really a good thing. Sure, if fulfills our human need for contact, but the world can’t be run through Facebook. Businesses require employees to be able to communicate well in groups – they list it above ‘knowledge of statistical analysis’ among important qualities they look for when hiring.
Technology is amazing. I hear incredible things about upcoming computers and interfaces from my IST professor (she works at IBM over summers, so she’s ‘in the know,’ as they say). But then I hear stories about how kindergarten classes are using iPads as educational tools, and how toddlers are just as adept, if not more, at using smartphones as their parents, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re traveling along a slippery slope. Kids these days are going to grow up expecting every screen they see to respond to touch (which will likely be the case) and they’re going to think we’re ridiculous when we sit down to type on a keyboard (the words of my IST professor, not me). But should we really be indoctrinating kids with technology at such an early age? Is it right to forgo a written education that will allow students to develop handwriting skills in favor of these other devices? Is it really healthy for them to grow up with the understanding that everything they could ever need to know is just a Google search away? In my experience, students are already suffering through schools that fail to teach them how to think and analyze; what’s going to happen when they stop learning to remember information? I don’t have the answers; I’m just here to ask the questions. But, if you ask me, I think we need to take a step back and consider the implications of these new technologies before we make them so mainstream. Technology is going to continue to grow at an incredible pace, but that doesn’t mean we should gobble up every single bit of it that gets passed out to us. Think about what it is you have in your hand before you stick it in your mouth (to continue with the food metaphor).
I'd spend some time discussing the adverse social consequences of the increased specialization in media, but I'm trying to keep this relatively optimistic, and I don't have the motivation to go into that deep of a topic at the moment. I think I'll simply note that it's not very helpful to cultural advancement when people are only exposed to things that they understand, like, or agree with. But I think I might be straying a bit too far from the original topic of evolution.
I’m not terribly pessimistic about the future of our culture. And, I think, maybe I’m just a bit averse to change. I mean, back in middle school I swore I’d never own an iPod, and, sure enough, I happily got one just a few years later. But at the same time, this is a much more serious cultural shift than digital music. But I don’t think we’re going to get to the point at which people don’t talk to each other in person anymore. Our society is going to continue to be dependent on interpersonal relations, especially in small group environments. But think about this – greeting strangers on the street used to be a socially acceptable norm. Do it now, and you’re likely to get strange looks in response, at the most. Isn’t that just kinda sad? I certainly think so.