We have already entered post-literacy. Not only are we more and more engaged in social media feeds where we scroll through video-based imagery, it feels like we are moving backwards in time, away from reading language with the eye, to once again hearing language with the ear, as social audio like Clubhouse gains ground.
You may have noticed that when you are reading you are less likely to be taken in by misinformation, because the brain is actively engaged in interpreting and imagining rather than just receiving communication via the TV. More interesting than that, is the notion that in leaving our literacy behind, we are also saying goodbye to the notion of separateness - the separateness of one individual from another, as well as the detachment of the individual from the environment in which they find themselves.
Marshall McLuhan made the case in his work that phonetic writing is a technology that extends the visual power of words but detaches us from emotion, explaining that "language does for intelligence what the wheel does for the feet and the body. It enables them to move from thing to thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement". In this way, language extends and amplifies man but it also diminishes the possibility of collective consciousness or intuitive awareness.
However, now with the internet usurping literacy we may do away with words and come to rely on connecting our thoughts instead. We have seen the acceleration of this through Elon Musk’s Neuralink to name one of many experimental brain technologies of late. I wondered what it would mean for marketing and advertising which rely so heavily not only on the idea, but on the idea being executed in visuals and words. For a start, it may fundamentally change the creative process...
The Future of You
The following is an excerpt from The Future of You: Can Your Identity Survive 21st Century Technology by Tracey Follows. It is published by Elliott & Thompson, available from Bookshop.org now.
"The exciting thing is that we do not yet know the limits of the brain’s plasticity. If technology such as the Buzz wristband [which turns sound into touch] is already possible, why couldn’t we train our brain to not only receive information but send out information to wirelessly control a machine from across the room? Perhaps – in the same way that DARPA hopes to link soldiers to fighter jets – we too might find ourselves able to thought-control any kind of everyday machine from a vacuum cleaner or a smartphone to a more sophisticated workplace robot or even robots in outer space.
Then things get even smarter. Once we are able to plug our brains directly into specific devices, imagine plugging ourselves into some kind of shared server onto which we could extend our mind, offload tasks, store memories, increase our mental capacity, and even connect with the brains of other people connected to the same server. When I asked futurist Ian Pearson to explain how that could work, he responded:
Let’s suppose we get to the point in 2040 or 2045 where direct brain links are starting to appear. They can’t upload your entire mind but they can act as an extension of your memory, so an extension of your intelligence and some of your mind can then run on the cloud. [If] your mind is running on the server farm, and my mind is running on the same . . . farm, there’s nothing in principle to stop you and I from exploring the same concepts at exactly the same time because our brains start to overlap at that point; your brain includes this particular chip or this particular algorithm and so does mine. And because we share the same thinking space we could then share ideas and develop ideas together without directly talking to each other.
This raises so many extraordinary questions for us to grapple with. Does this mean we could effectively watch the thoughts of every other person whose mind was relying on the same server farm as us? What about when we’re sleeping – would our extended minds still be working away and does that mean someone else might be able to access our dreams? And if that is the case, does that mean our dreams will no longer belong to us, but will become as public as any other media is today? Would we be looking at a new era of social media, in which news feeds are replaced by ‘dream feeds’? If that ever becomes the case, I’d think we’d all get very familiar very quickly with the privacy settings!
It would also be transformative for many industries – especially in creative fields such as advertising, marketing and design. Those industries love to talk about the ‘creative idea’ and the collaboration it takes to originate a big idea and then refine it through a series of drafts and redrafts passed back and forth between designers, writers, account managers, executives and clients until it’s perfected. If we ever reach the era of the shared mind, would we be able to get rid of all these interim stages? Perhaps all of the people involved wouldn’t have to depict their ideas and desired corrections in order to get input from someone else, they could just all think the idea through at once in the mega mind. It would be, as Ian Pearson says, ‘like using Google Docs where more than one person can edit the same document at the same time . . . [it would be] Google Mind Docs’. And it could be two people interacting, or it could be two million – and then what you would have is a hive mind."
Tracey Follows is a futurist and chief executive of Futuremade