“We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us.” — John Culkin (1967)
That visionary observation from 50 years ago has even more meaning today. Most of the world is focused on how “we shape our tools”, including how to make and use the vast cornucopia of tools across all facets of life, business, government, society, etc. Meanwhile, our behaviors, attitudes, society and culture are unconsciously shaped by the tools/technologies we use.
Digital technology represents an overabundance of rapidly shaping and changing tools. Now, even tools are shaping other tools. We need to remember that our behaviors and attitudes are shaped by the tools/technologies we use, but they are shaped through our senses which plugs into our unconscious and are not directly available to us consciously, which make how they shape us harder to perceive.
We are at the beginning of an ever faster rate of hyper-change. AI, robotics, gene editing, designer babies, genetically “improved” humans, bio-enhancements, self-driving cars, the end of work… and a very long list of other new tools that are about to disrupt and re-shape almost everything… at essentially the same time. The biggest and fastest changes in the history of the world. How will the world deal with that much hyper-change all at once?
“…and, thereafter, our tools shape us.” As we shape our tools faster than ever, our tools are shaping us faster than ever, as well.
Smartphones didn’t exist 10 years ago, now 2 billion people are using them, which is about 1/3rd of the earth’s population. As a result 1 in 3 people are now hunched over their phones in a way that is bad for their posture, distracts them from potentially dangerous situations, and comes across as very anti-social… to people that are present, not the crowd of avatars on social networks.
When 1/3rd of the world changes their body position and the way they communicate I consider it an anthropological-level event. Those kinds of global changes used to take thousands of years. Now it takes less than 10. That’s hyper-change.
There needs to be a lot more discussion and research about what those shapes and changes are, and what impact they might have in the all-too-near future. We need to try and control our technological destiny before it controls us.
The technology tools that we are shaping and that are now starting to shape us are at the edges of our comprehension. These will happen so fast it will soon make us question the very nature of what it means to be human. We have to understand how tools are shaping us, and how to cope with that shaping in the time of hyper-change.