Disposable Me

tumblr_inline_obt8scynV21u5jrh3_1280

One of the key themes of Utopium is how disposable and fluid our identity could be in the future. If current trends in augmented and virtualised reality continue it looks more than plausible that we will one day be able to project whatever version of ourselves we like into the ‘real’ world or at least into the minds of anyone who looks at us.

There are already people embedding the tech currently confined to phones inside their bodies and experimenting with creating entirely new senses. If we can plug our minds directly into the internet via embedded wifi (or its successor) and we can augment our senses, either peripherally through sensory implants or centrally through direct interception and manipulation of sensory information within the brain, then we could conceivably alter how others see us through their augmented senses.

As the social media giants mine more and more data from us, our profiles could one day contain highly detailed information about the version of ourselves we want to project – an avatar that we pipe directly into the minds of others. So if I want you to see me as a woman instead of a man I would alter the avatar that I project to be more feminine, and then whenever someone looks at me my profile information augments their raw sensory data so they see me how I want them to see me. No need for surgery. And if tomorrow I want to be a man again, no big deal – just update my profile and I’m male. Or maybe I want to be a cat. Or a tree. Or a potato. Anything will be possible once we can manipulate sensory data and once we can do that it will usher in an era of disposable identity. The biggest challenge is understanding the neurophysiology that underlies our perception, and being able to map, translate and interface digital information onto neural networks – but much work is being done in this field and it more a matter of when, rather than if. Worlds like Second Lifealready show how elaborate and diverse our identities can become once we are freed from the shackles of our underlying biology there is no telling how we will evolve – beyond the flesh.

But who are we if we can be anything? If I’ve only ever seen you as a woman and one day you present yourself as a man, or a completely new gender, will that change how I treat you? Will it change who you are? Of course – we are more than how we look, but how we look and how others perceive us and treat us inevitably changes how we feel about and perceive ourselves. Are these notions of gender and identity really just outdated concepts that need consigning to the societal bin? Does it matter who we are? Is identity important? How do we define ourselves? Where do we get our sense of permanence? Perhaps it is our memories? Or our achievements? Do these things need to be fixed at all? Currently an unstable personality is treated as a symptom of mental illness, but in a future of fluid identity, could personality become as transient and disposable as the identity it is attached to?

The emergence of fluid identity could be a liberating and equalising force, breaking down racial barriers and ending sexual discrimination, or it could be another nail in the coffin for reality, rendering us no longer able to trust our senses, lost in our narcissism and vulnerable to those who would hide behind the smokescreen of our uncertainty. Whatever happens, one day, how we define ourselves is going to change – possibly on a daily or hourly basis.

Trump wants to destroy reality

tumblr_inline_obakd5h14k1u5jrh3_1280

The paradox of reality is that if you think it is absolute you are compelled to expect others to share it which of course they may not but if you accept it as transient and subjective you have nothing to ground your experience of the world in. So what reality are we supposed to believe?

The ascent of Donald Trump to republican nominee for the presidency of the United States has been marked by a series of ever increasingly controversial, offensive and outright incorrect claims and accusations.

From walls on the Mexican border to claiming that if he loses – the election will have been rigged, Trumps claims are lapped up unquestioned by his millions of supporters whilst the democrats and left wing media scrambles to challenge his claims and oppose his rhetoric. The problem is they just can’t keep up and once something exists, especially in the social media, rolling news age, it’s almost impossible to destroy. Now he has claimed the election rigged if he loses, the possibility exists. It’s out there. It is a new reality that didn’t exist before he mentioned it. This is what trump does. He is a manufacture of realities. Realities vomited into existence that only need to live long enough to get him to the next one and keep him in the headlines.

The danger we are missing is the damage he is doing to reality itself. With the power and influence he has amassed the realities he invents are powerful weapons of bigotry and hate that divide as well as confuse. He creates truths devoid of fact and his supporters lap it up, interpreting the reality they are being fed as an act of rebellion because he has manufactured a reality where he is the voice of the disenfranchised white folk. If the America that doesn’t like the realities he forge don’t fight for an alternative reality the danger is that his realities will prevail and who knows where that will end and what will be left of any sense of reality in his wake.

Perhaps we need to think of reality more like a precious metal or a fragile ecosystem. Once gone, once exploited and destroyed, there may be no way to restore it. The forces and people that act to define our reality have more power over us than we know and we need to be highly sceptical of any attempt to shape what we perceive whilst at the same time retaining a sense of reality that we can cling onto long enough to be meaningful. Like democracy – if we want to have a say in our reality we need to be active participants in it and not just passive consumers.