Tales of the ichild: What it Means to be Human in the Digital Age

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My eighteen-month old niece, Avigail, is not allowed to watch television but plays daily with a disabled iphone and an ipad on which she plays games and watches videos.  She is very attached to these devices and will scream (“PHONE! PHONE!”) if they are not within her reach.  (Gee, does anyone remember Teddy Bears? My Little Pony?)  At a recent family gathering, my cousin’s huge 60” flat screen television was tuned to channel 2, and that station’s familiar, round logo hovered on the bottom right of the screen.  Avigail approached the TV and decisively “pressed” the CBS logo.  She tapped it again when she did not get the anticipated result, expecting to find her familiar ipad content.  It was smart to associate that huge logo, about the size of her hand, with the much smaller buttons on her devices.  She is such a sweet little ichild! Still, something about it bothered me…

Thinking further about being human in the digital era, I considered how humans differ from other species.  Since we cannot know the inner minds of other species, we cannot know if they are spiritual, moral, or appreciate beauty.   So, here I offer a list of uniquely human traits:

  1. We cook our food.
  2. We not only use tools but design and build them and can create sophisticated technology by combining tools.
  3. We create art for its’ own sake.
  4. We not only communicate but document.
  5. We consciously develop our minds, and craft goals.

Tools and technology combined with communication and documentation have led to our digital age in a uniquely human effort.  Information, to good and bad results, moves around the globe instantaneously.  Those who cannot walk can still experience interactive visits to museums and landmarks anywhere in the world.  Groups of people can work or play together simultaneously in spite of the distance between them.  Dictators have toppled, careers have been launched or ruined, many human needs have been met, all because of digital technology. And, our images, voices, thoughts and opinions will remain in digital form long after we have died.

Professor Steve Fuller (1), in a video lecture, states that perhaps communication is the most desirable trait in humanity’s digital era.  He points out that some third world countries such as India have a higher cell phone per capita than in the US.  This does not coincide with typically established hierarchy of human needs such as clean water and sufficient food to “secure the biological human first.” This may suggest that people in the digital age will “redefine where their humanity lies.”

(1) http://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=AoTXQtKEEPcqz3guP6wk7FObvZx4?p=being+human+in+the+digital+era&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-900 7:42