In her 1986 book, Neurophilosophy, Patricia Smith-Churchland said, “Our brain has evolved from earlier kinds of brains — that our kind was not built from scratch especially for us, but has capacities and limitations that are due to its historical origins.” The brain triggers movement after responding to a stimulus from the neuromuscular system. This quote is interesting because for years we’ve conditioned ourselves to be active and move around in order to function. Advancements in technology have facilitated little to no dependence on activity in order to operate in society. Now we live in an on-demand culture where people are more than willing to rely on technology to make life easier for them. It makes me wonder about how the the human brain will adapt when the neuromuscular system doesn’t face the demand to trigger movement like past brains.
Go out in public and look around, chances are you are going to see somebody with an iPhone in their hand. Walk into a Chipotle today–not just for this experiment but because it’s good–and in that 73-foot line you’ll see about ¾ of the people in there on their phone. Then look at the already served patrons seated in groups and I bet all of them have their phone on the table waiting to hear from a friend through text instead of just talking to the friends they’re sitting with. Or they’ll have the phone in one hand and the burrito in the other trying to play Candy Crush while bits of corn from their burrito fall all over their screen.
I’ll admit, I can’t give you a more educated theory on the evolutionary consequences of our culture’s habit of hunching over and staring at a small screen all day like astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson could. My guess is as good as Neil Patrick Harris’ to be honest. But he played a child prodigy doctor so I’m inclined to say he’s qualified to make a pretty good one.
You ever see that horrible movie Surrogates with Bruce Willis? Of course you haven’t. Anyway, it’s about an American future that lives in a world where surrogate robots carry out the day-to-day activities of their human counterparts. The way the subjects in Surrogates live vicariously through their robotic representatives of themselves is the same way people live vicariously through their smartphones and social media today.
It’s depressing to walk into Chipotle and see these strangers looking down at their phone. Thinking back on all of the great conversations I’ve had serendipitously with strangers- you know, conversations about forgotten sub-par pro athletes like Darko Milicic, a miraculous revelation that this stranger happens to share a mutual friend, or discussing if Omar Little would be good or bad for society?- it’s bothersome to know that those conversations are less likely to happen because there is an abundance of people tuned out of reality as they scroll through their Instagram feed instead of experiencing what happens in real life. Who would have thought that a C- movie like Surrogates would turn out to be so prophetic? The filmmakers of Surrogates are either producers of incidental wisdom, or true soothsayers as social media becomes the surrogate for peoples’ lives.
So, yes, I’m no NDT, but the increasing lack of face-to-face social communication and physical movement must have some type of evolutionary implication. Humans would adapt without it, sure, that’s what the brain learns to do like Smith-Churchland said. But it would be a really depressing, less mobile form of adaptation since humans are no longer required to move. Would probably resemble Jabba the Hutt with even worse posture. Just a motionless slug that can only communicate through text.
Take it from another producer of incidental wisdom, Dazed and Confused’s, David Wooderson. He’d tell you life is all about ‘Livin! L-I-V-I-N.’ Wasting your life on an iPhone while social media plays the surrogate to your life, that’s not livin’.