Being left behind

If you sit in a public place (pre-pandemic, of course) and simply gaze at nothing in particular out there and not look at your smartphone, you may be presumed to be all sorts of wrong – creep, shady, crazy, odd, etc.

If you are interviewing at an organization and you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, people may think you have something to hide.

These days the bar is low anyway – if you are still blogging, like me, and not podcasting or making videos, that is also seen as being outdated 🙂

The larger point, though, is that when there are newer technological advances, and they are adopted by a larger number of people, the few who are either left behind or choose to not adopt those technologies for whatever reason, are left behind… or subtly excluded.

This is playing out right now in a glaring manner because school now has become digital, via digital devices. But considering a vast majority of children cannot afford either a good enough digital device or predictable internet connectivity, they are left behind.

There is enough and more data to back this up.

All of the above is about access, availability, and affordability not allowing someone to be seen as an equal. If you remove that which is being accessed (gadgets like smartphones, for instance), we all still remain equal – as humans.

But where could we head next, in this evolution?

Smartphones don’t change who we are; they change what we do. However, imagine technological advances that change us, not just equip us with outside additions.

One form of this is playing out right now – vaccinated and unvaccinated. The vaccinated have an advantage over the unvaccinated. The former can go places that the latter cannot and that poses several kinds of disadvantages to them.

Another potential form could happen in the near future when we have embedded devices in our bodies that not just help us with things that we lack (cochlear implant, pacemakers, etc.), but help us do things that were previously not possible by humans.

For instance, imagine a device we can embed in us, or wear, that can help us see in the dark (even when we don’t have any light).

Or gene editing, which allows you to be better than others in certain ways, including disease resistance, among others.

But imagine technological progress (if it really was one) where you are embedded with something that improves certain faculties – can hear more frequencies than was possible by humans, see more in terms of the spectrum the human eye can see, and so on. Those who can afford it, and have access, would then have a clear disadvantage than those that cannot.

I’m currently reading ‘We Are Satellites’, by Sarah Pinsker.

The book presents a near-future scenario where there is an invention called the ‘Pilot’. The Pilot is a brain implant that helps you focus on more than one thing. So, you can watch a movie while talking to someone and focus on both equally well even if you are not seeing/facing the person you are talking to. The Pilot helps humans multitask convincingly.

As the book says, through a doctor involved in enabling the simple outpatient procedure to embed the device, “Pilot lets you approximate functional multitasking. Stimulation of the right temporoparietal junction. The rTPJ is associated with reorienting attention in response to unexpected stimuli. What we’ve discovered is that rTPJ stimulation results in the ability to get as close to actual multitasking as a person can currently get.”

The Pilot is gradually seeded via schools as a ‘study gadget’. Every person who gets a Pilot has a blue light glowing just above the hairlines, working like a constant advertisement, much like how Apple AirPods offer a white-colored advertisement in the ear.

The embed is offered to school students at a subsidy to increase adoption. Once adoption picks up, adults too get it. The people who cannot get it for medical reasons and the people who choose not to get it are left behind in many ways. School students who don’t/cannot get a Pilot are put in separate classes because they are slower than those who have Pilots.

A later chapter explains how Pilots gained traction and what kind of changes they have brought along:

“It took a full year for her to find a job in a public high school on the west side, coaching and teaching non-Piloted geography, which by then was the actual class name. She made sure the students in it knew she thought they were smart and capable, and she took joy in the fact that, Piloted or not, running was still running, and students still needed her advice on body mechanics, on training, on strategy.

She was one of only four teachers at her new school without Pilots, and they all taught the non-Piloted classes. They sometimes chatted about how fast it had all happened, about the way Pilots had so quickly become the default, so that the class choices were geography and non-Piloted geography, or the fact that there were five freshman geography sections, and the non-Piloted one had only twenty students. Same in other subjects as well.”

Employees without Pilots are seen as people with a handicap, or a disadvantage, compared to those who have it!

That sounds quite like what I started this post with! Students who cannot afford a digital device and good internet connectivity are left behind in their basic education and need some other kind of special schooling/coaching to cope up.

Employees without a WhatsApp account or a LinkedIn profile are seen differently!

I’m reasonably sure that a Pilot-like technological evolution is right around the corner – it’s just a matter of time. But our experiences in the alienation of large swathes of people via previous and current generation technology says a lot about how much worse things can get.

PS: I love the novel (We Are Satellites) for another reason too. It features a same-sex couple and their kids call one ‘Ma’ and the other ‘Mom’. And the whole thing is treated with utmost normalcy. No one in the entire story even thinks this is unique or different and takes it as completely their choice. As it should be.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *