Towards technological humanism- lifestreams and the empathic civilisation

Video – The Empathic Civilisation – Jeremy Rifkin – RSA Animate

Another weekend just gone and another article in the papers about a supposed backlash against Social Networking, this time from The Observer.

Which is strange given the continued rise in numbers of people using things like Facebook and Twitter. But anyway that aside it seems to me that the mainstream public discourse around new technologies and in particular social networking is asking the wrong question. The question we should be asking isn’t “are these new technologies good or bad?” Rather we should be asking ourselves how do we make sure technology is used to express and enable the good in human nature rather than the bad?

We have to constantly question what parts of human nature we want to celebrate and what parts to challenge and refine. There is no need to allow the direction we first set off in influence the rest of the journey like a bullet leaving a gun. Rather we need to shape iteratively the technology we are creating and how it serves us.

One of the most exciting questions I think we have to answer is – How are we going to manage all the data we have flooding towards us in a way that elevates our humanity rather than smothers it?

Right now we are in the position where the amount of information available to us is rapidly moving beyond what we can reasonably stay on top of but we still think we can. The addictive nature of this phenomenon is wonderfully described here by Jim Stodgill . Soon it will far exceed what we can stay on top of and then people will actually probably be able to relax. David Gelernter talks brilliantly about this future scenario and the technology that will emerge to allow us to experience information in “lifestreams” that we dip into as suits us.

This is exactly the type of thing we should be thinking about- recognising the positive benefits and thinking about how to improve the negatives of technology rather than naively positioning our choices as yes or no to social technologies that are here to stay.

We are learning a lot about human nature as research allows us to understand more and more about the Primate brain. We are discovering that the fundamental wiring of the brain isn’t as self-centered as we first thought and is actually highly empathetic and social in nature. It’s incredibly excitingly described by Jeremy Rifkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends in the video above from the fantastic RSA Animate series. Rifkin concludes by discussing the role of technology in empowering our underlying empathetic nature to create what he calls the empathic civilisation.

Take a look at the video, it certainly inspired me with the opportunity we have to create a future around a new idea of human nature.


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