In the space of just 20 years, the internet has transformed us completely. It has changed not just the structure of our brains, but the structure of the planet. Our attention spans have narrowed to the length of a Beatles song. Our lives used to feel like stories; now they’ve collapsed to a perpetually refreshing stream of tweets and posts. We outsource our memory to the ‘Cloud’, and remember nothing we don’t have to. All that exists is immediately in the now. The internet, like all technologies, is not being shaped to resemble humans. Humans are being shaped to resemble the internet. Welcome to the age of the Extreme Present.
Shumon Basar, writer, thinker and cultural critic, Douglas Coupland, the renowned author of Generation X, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, one of the world’s best-known curators, have joined forces for a special event with Intelligence Squared to explore the challenges that the planet faces in the Extreme Present. Ours is an era so unfamiliar that in their book, The Age of Earthquakes – their 21st-century update of Marshall McLuhan’s seminal 1967 book The Medium Is the Massage – Basar, Coupland and Obrist have developed a new ‘Glossarium’ to describe the unsettling experiences of the always-on, networked age. Do you suffer from ‘monophobia’ (the fear of feeling like an individual) or from ‘connectopathy’ (a range of irregular behaviours triggered by the rewiring of our brains)? Do you spend more and more of your time ‘deselfing’ (willingly diluting your sense of self by plastering the internet with as much information as possible) or, as technology makes you ever smarter yet leaves you feeling ever more stupid, maybe you – along with everyone else on the net – have begun to feel ‘smupid’?
New times require new means of understanding. We were joined by these three commentators on the digital age as they conducted a rapid-fire event on March 5, together with a panel of eminent experts, as they examined the neurological, social, cultural and geological effects that the Extreme Present is having on our brains, our lives and our planet.