Sociologist considers “Humanity 2.0”

A sociologist who is “Auguste Comte chair in social epistemology in Warwick University’s Department of Sociology” discusses his new book titled Humanity 2.0. In my opinion, here is the most interesting part of the interview:

Let’s put it this way: we’ve always been heading towards a pretty strong sense of Humanity 2.0. The history of science and technology, especially in the west, has been about remaking the world in our collective “image and likeness”, to recall the biblical phrase. This means making the world more accessible and usable by us. Consider the history of agriculture, especially animal and plant breeding. Then move to prosthetic devices such as eyeglasses and telescopes.

More recently, and more mundanely, people are voting with their feet to enter Humanity 2.0 with the time they spend in front of computers, as opposed to having direct contact with physical human beings. In all this, it’s not so much that we’ve been losing our humanity but that it’s becoming projected or distributed across things that lack a human body. In any case, Humanity 2.0 is less about the power of new technologies than a state of mind in which we see our lives fulfilled in such things.

Wouldn’t someone like Archimedes describe us as Humanity 3.0 compared to his era?

Yes, Archimedes would probably see us as pretty exotic creatures. He would already be impressed by what we take for granted as Humanity 1.0, since the Greeks generally believed that “humanity” was an elite prospect for ordinary Homo sapiens, requiring the right character and training. Moreover, he would be surprised – if not puzzled – that we appear to think of science and technology as some long-term collective project of self-improvement – “progress” in its strongest sense. While the Greeks gave us many of our fundamental scientific ideas, they did not think of them as a blueprint for upgrading the species. Rather, those ideas were meant either to relieve drudgery or provide high-brow entertainment.

What is considered “normal” for human beings has changed quite a bit over the centuries. This reminds me of something I read months ago about the concept of “normal” in medicine: we tend to focus on more unusual circumstances so don’t know as much what the possible ranges of “normal.” When first introduced, many technological changes were not “normal” but humans adapted. As Fuller suggests, perhaps we need to have a conversation about what is “normal” and how much change we are willing to accept and how quickly it might be implemented.

Were Archimedes and the Greeks correct in focusing more on “character and training” rather than scientific progress?

When people talk about these sorts of topics, readers start thinking about things like robots, prosthetics, and computer chip implants and don’t think so much about eyeglasses or common crops. Indeed, the book cover plays off these common stereotypes with its “futuristic” look at a human head. Does this jump to future technology and the potential problems immediately turn some possible readers off while a cover that played around more with “safer” ideas like eyeglasses would be attractive to more people?

Spies in suburbia: not unusual

The Russian spy ring recently caught in America was primarily based in suburbia. One New York Times writer argues that this is not that unusual:

We’ve seen this movie before, a variation on “Fun With Dick and Jane” or “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” among others.

It’s fun, but as sociology, the story line set against the presumed seamless banality of suburban life gets ever flimsier. We seem to have had a computer chip implanted in our brain about the time of “Little Boxes,” the dopey and incredibly sanctimonious 1962 song about suburban conformity (“Little boxes made of ticky tacky … Little boxes all the same”) that helped define the suburbs. And it seems to persist even as its descriptive value trends toward zero. So at a time when more than half of Americans live in suburbs, what exactly does the suburban part of this tale tell us? Alas, not much.

The article contains more information about the growing diversity in suburbia including a smaller number of families living the “Ozzie and Harriet sort of life.” (Perhaps this phrase needs to be updated for the 21st century since “Ozzie and Harriet” is a little dated. How about the “Homer and Marge Simpson suburban life”?) If a majority of Americans live in suburbia, it is not unusual that a number of nefarious characters come out of suburbia.

What is not addressed in this article is a stereotype that suburbia leads people to such things as spying, violence, and breaking up their families to escape the dull and empty suburban lifestyle. In this case, the Russians came to suburbia to blend in and live a normal life.