Addictions evolve with technology. In an overstimulating, constantly distracting modern world, phenomenona like videogame and even Internet addiction have become serious issues. How will the landscape shift in another ten, fifty, or hundred years?
It feels like a question best tackled by science fiction, but the answer is important in the here and now. Knowing which addictions await us in the future not only grants us the opportunity to prepare, but may also help us to deal with the addictions we struggle with today.
Body Hacks & Implants
Biohacking, also known as transhumanism, is a trend that essentially amounts to enhancing one’s body using technology. The concept has been around since the early 1920s but recent advancements in science have shoved it back into the spotlight. It may not be long before real life begins to imitate fiction (see Deus Ex and Fringe).
The potential benefits of implantable technology are exciting. Google Glass may or may not be a huge step up from smartphones, but what about bionic eyes? What about neuroimplants that could eradicate depression forever? We may even see another milestone in healthcare thanks to nanotech in medicine.
It’s not hard to see the addictive potential in any of these. People are already becoming addicted to Google Glass, spending 18 hours a day with the device and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when forced to go without it. That’s frightening enough, thank you very much.
Memory Storage & Playback
If you haven’t watched Black Mirror (a BBC television series) yet, please do. Each episode is a thrilling self-contained story that explores the impact of technology on society and relationships. It’s exciting, compelling, and at times downright terrifying.
One episode revolves around a neural implant that allows humans to commit everything they see to perfect memory, then revisit those moments with a rewind feature. I won’t spoil anything here, but the episode vividly shows how such a simple idea can have devastating implications.
Which brings up an interesting question: If you could have perfect memory by using an implant, would you? The gut reaction is often “Yes!”, but a reliance on external memory could introduce a lot of potential issues, including addiction.
Some of us already rely on smartphone calculator apps to handle basic mental math. Now that the Internet is so deeply embedded in daily life, we don’t even need to memorize facts anymore. Why would we, when sites like Wikipedia are never more than a search query away?
Just as we now carry our smartphones everywhere we go, I don’t think it’s farfetched to imagine a future where we carry our memory banks everywhere we go. But more so than that, it will be easy to succumb to the temptation of literally reliving our memories rather than living in the present.
Earlier this year, researchers from the University of California, San Diego managed to inactivate and reactivate specific memories in genetically-engineered rats. It’s a far cry from voluntary selective amnesia in humans, but it’s certainly a step on the path. And when it does arrive, society will never be the same again.
Selective amnesia could prove helpful for traumatic experiences. It could also be used in a malicious way, forcing people to forget sensitive information against their will. But most interesting, at least to this writer, is the possibility of memory wiping as a casual service akin to massages, haircuts, and pedicures.
Memory wiping could pave the way for humans to re-experience emotional moments as if they’d never experienced them. We’ve all read a book or watched a TV series that was so good that we wished we could start over with a blank memory, right? Well, if you could walk down the street and have it wiped for $20, wouldn’t you?
Similarly, how much would people pay to erase the pain of a lost family member or a broken relationship from their brains? Awkward moments, embarrassing moments, moments that stir anger and hatred up within us — all gone for a small fee.
Whatever the cost, I could see it being incredibly addictive. But more frightening than individual addiction is the idea of an entire society that no longer remembers bad and only remembers good. The consequences of that sort of cultural blind spot are hard to ignore.
When machines become indistinguishable from humans, what happens to love and affection? Will we be able to find satisfaction and meaning in artificial intelligence? Is artificial intelligence even safe to explore? A definitive answer doesn’t exist yet, but there’s been plenty of speculation — some of which might keep you up at night.
Movies like HER have tried to depict what it might look like if a human fell in love with a conscious-but-not-quite-human entity. Imagine a world where artificial partners can be downloaded and customized — or, on the physical side of things, a world where artificial friends can be bought from Amazon.
Replacing friendship and romance with software could spell the end of our humanity. That’s the kind of science fiction that makes smartphone addiction look tame by comparison.
Then again, maybe we won’t look to artificial beings for meaningful relationships. Maybe we’ll just use them for sexual gratification instead. Porn addiction is real and pervasive, but how much worse will it get when “sex robots” are just as widely available?
Virtual Reality Experiences
Along with jetpacks and flying cars, virtual reality has always been one piece of technology that’s right around the corner. It still hasn’t arrived — at least not in the form that most people expect it to be — but we’re getting pretty close, especially with the debut of the Oculus Rift.
Virtual reality addiction would have many similarities to video game addiction. One of the main attractions is the ability to explore worlds, environments, and scenarios that simply aren’t possible in real life.
It’s one thing to imagine Mordor while reading The Lord of the Rings. It’s another thing entirely to be transported into Mordor, to walk across the land, and to interact face-to-face with nasty orcs. If Mordor isn’t exactly your style, what about Atlantis? Mars? Heaven?
When virtual worlds become preferable to the real world, that’s when addiction will explode. After all, many gamers sink hours every day into their favorite games because it grants them an escape from the stresses of mundane life. How much more of an escape will virtual reality be?
In some ways, the term “virtual reality” should scare us more than it currently does.
With all of the excitement and possibilities that come with technological advancements, it’s important that we don’t ignore the potential drawbacks — and addiction is a big drawback. Internet, smartphone, and porn addictions have already shaped society in a measurable way. Who knows how future addictions will change us?
What do you think of the potential for future addictions? What other upcoming technologies could prove dangerous for those with addictive personalities? Share your predictions with us in the comments below!
Image Credits: Futuristic young man Via Shutterstock