If 85% of Americans die in bed, you might think people would regularly want to get out of them. Beds are wonderfully designed for sleep and sex. But do you want to use them (much) for anything else?
The commercial answer is yes! World industry is moving heaven and earth to create devices that will make it possible to never lift a finger.
The Awakening Echo
Recently my webmaster requested I check out the Amazon Echo, which of this writing has about 37,000 comments on, yes, Amazon. People love it! Many point out that they don’t have to do anything but speak and their wish becomes a command. They can play their music in 360 degree comfort; buy pizza – delivered to your door; reset the thermostat in the kitchen if you adventure beyond the bedroom to grab a meal; get the weather reports and sport scores. And were it not for the silo wars between giant IT combines, you would also be using the Echo to talk on the phone, buy and sell stocks, and converse with your dermatologist about a possible skin cancer while ordering your next video game – just as you can from your pad or laptop. Add a few drones delivering many of your nutritional and entertainment needs, plus some household robots, a joystick and wall monitor courtesy of 1984, and you never need get out of bed again.
Winners and Losers
The disabled win powerfully with the new human replacement technology. This is an inestimable boon to hundreds of millions. The problem is whether the same technologies may indirectly create more disability, working as they do to pit human desire against human physiology and health.
Mobile technology lets people move. But do they move more? Recent national surveys find less than half the population gets around 150 minutes of some kind of motion each, and that’s by self report. Other data sets put the number closer to a quarter. Couch Potato Dreamland awaits.
If headlines proclaim sitting is the new smoking, why are we spending so much time and effort discovering ways to never move? Australian studies have posited one to one ratios of sitting in front of a TV set and lost lifespan. Yet “mobile technology” is simultaneously decreasing incentives for mobility. The driver of the very near future will have so many entertainment opportunities that driving can become an absolute afterthought. It has become an afterthought for lots of folks, prompting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to try to stop use of the term “accident.” Why? Because most accidents are now the result of human error, easy when people would rather check their friend’s “likes” than look at the road. Even pedestrians in interiors are far from immune; this week I was nearly singed by a woman who decided to “stroll” while checking her messages, not noticing she was moving with a lit cigarette dangling from her left hand. At least she was walking. In a population that would rather watch videos rather than notice reality, self-driving cars may not come soon enough.
Machines and Health
It’s fun to use machines. But do you want to become one? Or just think like one?
Such is the dilemma of human replacement technology. Well before we get to a type situation when artificial intelligence uses humans the way we use animals, thinking like a machine rapidly undermines health.
If you see yourself as a machine, you don’t want to “use” yourself too much. To overuse your car risks it “falling apart” more quickly.
Yet the opposite is true of people. For us, use it or lose it is literally how things work. We don’t fall apart – we build up. Disease is not the machine “rotting away” but the organism failing to renew. Since the environment endlessly changes, we have to change and move with it. Learn, or we disappear. A bit like the software we adore, failure to update leads to failure. And failure, in the context of biology, means illness and death.
Technology as Destiny
If biology is not destiny, neither is technology. We can run with cellphones in our pockets, bike through the mountains carrying pads, and dance exuberantly to the music pumped into every room of our tiny apartment (who needs space when you’ve got virtual reality headgear?) The question is whether we will be intelligent enough to do so.
Or, as does the hero of Oblomov, that great Russian novel of 1859, we may prefer to lie in bed. There’s just so much to do there.