Intellectually Squishy People

The rent costs of emotional and intellectual information stored within the temporal lobes[1] vary throughout human and pre-human history. I imagine Homo erectus faced minimal psychic costs within her universe: the faces and sounds of her tribe, the strikes of flint around a central flame, the anatomies of local flora and fauna. Anatomically modern humans in the digital age suffer a uniquely different fate, one that impacts how we interact socially.

Thanks to that network of networks[2] we call the Internet our reference point for all things informational and social converge, subsidize, and flattens preexisting ideas. Our Homo erectus friend need only remember three items of interest about any given domain of knowledge; we have an exponentially overloaded kingdom of subdomains nested within categories devilishly connected between deluges of information collected with feverish velocity. This is the classic information overload case and it is not a new idea, but what social costs do we pay? Is the Internet free lunch actually free?

Consider a situation. The homeless man is approached by a crowd on the street corner. Thoughts collide, all shades of temperaments, regarding the nature of the destitute man. Some thoughts are fast, some are slow. Little homunculi[3] dance in the heads of the bystanders, presenting all forms of cognitive biases and squishy thinking in their array of thoughts. Some questions arise in the context of the digital, in the wake of the gods pounding, shaping our synapses into the collective “pancake people” Richard Foreman prophesized[4].

The decidedly un-affectionate affirmation of recent philosophers to shun us digital natives as possessing wide but shallow inner densities requires a slow and analytical System II[5] type of thinking in order for proper analysis. The fast and automatic thinking characterized as System I is often fallacious, and may be the reason for the initial negative thoughts of the homeless man. The alleged thinning out of real depth of wisdom and knowledge due to the arachnid hold of the burgeoning universe of information we have instant access to may also factor into this equation. Or it may be a blend. Or it may be Option C, D, E, or F.

We are gods compared to our fire-bearing pre-human ancestor friend, privy to knowledge inconceivable and capable of feats unimaginable. But our new technologies are influencing how we interact socially as the birth of fire most assuredly did for Homo erectus. There are costs we must pay for our technological advances like first-degree burns. But with great access to information we have enormous potential to correct our social inabilities to correctly analyze the homeless man, to connect deeper with friends and loved ones, and view the world in the prism of first principles[6] and slow thinking.

[1] Sam Harris, Edge: