Could our constant reciprocal interaction with digital logic (through laptops, tablets, smartphones, all the way to highly immersive virtual reality environments), particularly when it leads to powerfully hedonic experiences, result in the slow compromise or even elimination of some of the behaviours and cognitive aptitudes that represent the most exquisite and cherished attributes of the human condition? Attributes such as our multifaceted social skills, empathy, linguistic semantics, aesthetic sense, artistic expression, intuition, creativity and the ability to improvise solutions to novel contingencies, to name just a few. In other words, could opting for the fast lane of the never-ending highway to full digital immersion and automation — an obvious current trend in our modern society — produce a reduction in human cognitive capabilities?Nicolelis goes on to note that the human brain can not be reduced to the algorithmic nature of Turing machine, but rather is an organic computer in which hardware and software from the molecular to the organismal level cannot be dissociated, one that uses a recursive mix of analogue and digital processing.
Even though the brain cannot be reduced to a digital machine, could the human brain simply assimilate and begin to mimic the rigid binary logic and algorithmic mode of operation of digital machines due to the growing overexposure to digital devices and the hedonic response triggered by these interactions, and become a biological digital system?
I would volunteer the notion that passive immersion in the digital systems of modern airplanes (in the case of pilots), digital imaging diagnostics (radiologists) and computer-assisted design (architects) may gradually curtail the range and acuity of some mental functions and cognitive skills, such as creativity, insight and the ability to solve novel problems…when people believe that a series of statements that they have been asked to remember will be stored online, they perform worse than a control group that relies only on their own biological memory to remember the statements. This suggests that subcontracting some simple mental searches to Google may, after all, reduce our own brain’s ability to store and recall memories reliably.
The impact of online social media on our natural social skills is another area in which we may be able to measure the true effects of digital systems on human behaviour…An intense presence on social media and virtual reality environments can produce significant anxiety, a reduction in real social interactions, lack of social skills and human empathy, and difficulties in handling solitude. … symptoms and signs of addiction to virtual life are often reported…I began wondering whether the new ‘always connected’ routine is overtaxing our cerebral cortex by dramatically expanding the number of people with whom we can closely communicate, almost instantaneously, via the multitude of social media outlets available on the internet. Instead of respecting the group size limit (about 150 individuals) afforded by our cortical volume, we are now in continuous contact with a group of people that could far exceed that neurobiological limit. What are the consequences of this cortical overtaxing? Anxiety, attention, cognitive and even memory deficits?Homo digitalis
Is the above scenario something we should pay attention to? I think so. If not because of the potential impact on the mental health of this and future generations, but also because of the far-reaching consequences of our increasing interaction with digital systems. For example, at the far limit, I can conceive that this staggering expansion in our online social connectivity is capable of providing a completely new type of selective pressure that may, eventually, bias the evolutionary future of our species. One may begin wondering whether the dawn of ‘Homo digitalis’ is upon us or, more surprisingly, whether he/she is already around, texting and tweeting without being noticed.