Two orthoginal dimensions

As I have conversations with very smart people about the effects of advancing media technology, I am starting to see a pattern to the conclusions we draw. Essentially, there are two orthoginal dimensions.

On one dimension lies the ever-advancing course of technology. Over time, we develop new ways to express ourselves, to communicate and build culture. A while back there was moveable type. Then came radio, cinema, television, the Web, and SmartPhones, with wearables just around the corner.

On the other dimension lies everything that is intrinsically human, and that will always be human: Love, hate, loyalty, jealousy, tribalism and betrayal. The entire panoply of human experience has existed for millenia, and nothing about our modern technology can move it by even an inch.

It is an apparent contradiction: The ever evolving landscape of new forms of technology-enabled expression on the one hand, and the unchanging landscape of the essential human condition on the other.

I don’t think of this as something negative. Rather, I find it heartening that we continue to be who and what we have always been.

It tells me something very important: Regardless of where the twists and turns of ever evolving future technologies may lead us, we will always be recognizably human.

2 thoughts on “Two orthoginal dimensions”

  1. I think those axes are more parallel than you think. We develop new technologies for communication for the same reason that we are even *able* to develop increasingly complex technologies in the first place. The fact that we have an instinctual desire to communicate is the most intrinsically human thing of all. We’re not the only species to use tools, but we are the only species that writes instructions on how to use them. We’re not the only species that knows how to count, but we are the only species that has math classes. We are the most dominant species on the planet because we teach our children what we discover, and our children are able to build their own discoveries on top of ours rather than starting from scratch.

  2. I agree with you, but I also think you and I might be saying different things. Both points are valid, but each describes a different essential aspect of the human condition.

    Yes, we certainly continue to change and evolve as a “species + culture”. And that is indeed an essential aspect (perhaps the essential aspect) of being human.

    But some things about us never change, no matter how far we go down that path. We still care about our children, our lovers, our friends. We still form tribal attachments and rivalries. We still stand in awe at the mysteries of birth and death.

    So I think it’s a question of language. If we consider “species + culture”, then I agree with everything you say. But if we consider “species” as separate from “culture”, then there are indeed two orthogonal axes, each contributing to a single magnificent diagonal path.

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