Friday, May 07, 2010

Tomorrow's People

Cyber Tots

Dr. Susan Greenfield hit the ground running when she got to Portland, addressing a Mensa group, then hopping on Don's boat with her entourage for a visit to Island Cafe.

Despite differences in time zones, she was ready for Sunset High School the next afternoon, then her big appearance at the Schnitzer, to deliver the final ISEPP Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture of the 2009-2010 season.

This is where I first joined the action, providing the laptop for the podium. This Win7 Toshiba, a sponsor contribution, also served admirably in Baltimore at the Space Telescope Science Institute in service to Holden Web.

Susan's message is well crafted and she presents it in a humorous idiosyncratic style. Phrases like "lets give this a think" and "just to be brutal about it" pepper her discourse. Dr. Greenfield's Powerpoint skills are polished and her content is creative. Our mostly Anglophone audience had no trouble following her arguments and concerns.

Her message: we owe it to our progeny to question and debate the upsides and downsides of so much time spent with screens. The dangers she sees in them reflect parental worries across the board: too much living through cyberspace results in a deterioration of attention span, inter-personal skills, cognitive ability, individuality, empathy (those drone pilots come to mind).

We run the risk of producing zombie robots, easily manipulated by media and therefore easy prey for fascist, totalitarian or mindlessly materialistic ideologies (she talked about "affluenza" quite a bit).

Combine this loss of identity with drug use, and you have a recipe for infantilizing the brain, reducing its capacity for judgment perhaps by impairing the brain's frontal lobes.

Brain-centric mythos runs deep in Anglophone cultures and listening to Susan is like finding a missing puzzle piece or a decoder ring. Here's a world view English speakers will recognize.

She's at the opposite end of the spectrum from Aldous Huxley (Doors to Perception) in a lot of ways, in seeing psychotropics (e.g. psychedelics) as detracting from human potential. The brain is already plenty plastic and adaptable and doesn't need artificial enhancers for optimum performance, is her thesis. Walking with Nobby would be another candidate opposite, though with a shared focus on dementias associated with aging.

Access to a nutritious diet with exercise, combined with ample opportunities for gross and fine motor skills training, is what will provide society with the people it needs to move forward in a positive direction.

Drugs represent a desperate escape and their widespread / uninhibited use is symptomatic of a broken curriculum combined with incompetent leadership. Once you factor in legally prescribed psychotropics, you get a clear picture of a dysfunctional civilization.

This aspect of her message was a tad on the conservative side for a youthful Portland audience, which is looking forward to legalized cannibus (as she calls it). During the Q&A, one young woman took the bull by the horns, saying she actively encouraged the use of psychotropics and what did Susan think about this?

Susan claimed to be non-judgmental and scientific in her answer, but of course she continued to share her own ethical code, which is to mentor against elective (optional, recreational) drug use, mainly because of unintended side effects and the dependencies which develop.

I would agree with Susan that providing more ample opportunities to people in dire straits is a civilizational responsibility. I wish I'd had time to talk over my Coffee Shops Network (CSN) business model, which uses cyberspace to raise funds for activist NGOs, social service providers, worthy causes around the world.

Students still get to play those challenging computer games, but then so many are instructive, informative, topical -- as well as identity-building, as committed winnings may be added to one's profile. The social atmosphere provides free schooling opportunities with peers right there in the same venue, counter-balancing the isolating / solipsistic environment of the study carrel or private dorm.

Whether said coffee shop serves alcohol or other controlled substances to cardholders would vary by zip code and commercial license. The CSN blueprint (class template) allows for plenty of individuality at the instantiated object or establishment level. Dress codes are likewise a variable.

Around our table at the Heathman (ISEPP dinner, Susan, a Baroness, our guest of honor), we discussed the Wanderers session on telekinesis quite a bit (four of us had attended) and wondered to what extent brain science still has any ties whatsoever to what used to be called the study of "paranormal" phenomena. Back in the 1960s or 1970s, one might imagine the audience asking more questions about "ESP" but that way of talking didn't come up at all here in 2010.

I'm not especially surprised that the tenor of the questions has changed over the decades, as the invention of cyberspace has filled pretty much the same explanatory niche, suggesting how we might partake of a shared noospheric un/consciousness i.e. how we creatively reshape our identities within various partially overlapping threads within the Zeitgeist -- like on Facebook.

The suspension of disbelief required to accept TCP/IP as a service provided to and by the world game playing agencies is easier to pull off than a belief in magical notions (although this varies by subculture). Yakawow about some "second world" is therefore a path of lower resistance, more omni-economical to pursue, at least among Anglos and Gringos.