Is thinking becoming obsolete? Are more and more people living automated lives? We used to open a garage door by hand, wash clothes by hand, and turn a crank to start a Model-T automobile. The things we used to do manually have virtually disappeared. Presently in the works are cars that will drive themselves; simply punch in your destination, sit back, and relax. Cooking is rapidly becoming extinct. Put prepared food into a microwave oven, press a START button and, voilá– supper!
All of this automation has commandeered the cognitive and sentient human brain. Ideas have become commercialized. Aggressive college students now have access to pre-written term papers on every conceivable topic; for a price, of course. Computers have become surrogate parents, teachers, and pen-pals for those who are lonely. In the next generation, an individual will probably be able to conduct an entire computerized life. Whatever decisions need to be made, it will be available by pressing a computer key and have it pop up on a monitor. The act of pressing a computer key itself has already been replaced by voice-activated technology. A million questions, a million answers --- instant feedback.
The medical profession is also yielding to automation. Not only are robots now performing certain surgical procedures, extremely delicate and sensitive laboratory tests are now available that enable the neighborhood general practitioner better able to diagnose acute and chronic forms of a disease quickly without having to wait days for a report. Perhaps the physician's art is surrendering to biological engineering. Today, doctors are never faulted for ordering too many laboratory tests. However, if they fail to order a particular test that is consistent with standard medical procedure, they open themselves to a malpractice suit.
Brainwashing now wears the mask of political correctness. Thoughts have become readily programmable and, as such, highly predictable and controllable. In future, an increasing number of people may find talking less and less necessary. The world is on the verge of competing with mind-reading machines; i.e., “Big Brother.”
Once we have been completely stripped of our privacy, and governments are privy to our innermost secrets, thought will be little more than a vestige of human evolution.
The science of yesteryear has become today's Space-Age technology. While the film version of “Buck Rogers” was fantasy in the thirties and forties, it is commonplace today. Children grow up not knowing there was a time when there weren't any computers, TV sets, radios, computers, refrigerators, telephones, and fast food.
Civilization is rapidly being taken over by technology. Every day, the validity of a computer printout has seemingly preempted human credibility. Human opinion can seldom win when pitted against computer data. During computerized college class registration, if a computer mistakenly identifies you as a Sophomore, you are a Sophomore until proven otherwise. If the Internal Revenue Service says you owe them $10,000, the onus is on you to refute their claim. If a bank's computer wrongly reports your balance to be $5,742, it is incumbent upon you to prove that it is wrong, not the other way around.
This blind faith in computer accuracy takes on an even more sinister role in hospitals. A computer error can result in serious clinical consequences when a wrong prescription is administered or a wrong surgical procedure is performed. Medical malpractice court cases are replete with such instances. Rationalizing such errors by simply saying, “It was a computer error” does little to assuage the grief of a surviving wife or husband whose spouse needlessly died on an operating table.
Stop and ask yourself to what extent your daily life is taken up with deliberate thought. Your alarm clock tells you when to get up and your coffee-making machine starts automatically at sunrise; all with little or no thought. Getting dressed usually requires little or no thought, driving your car or taking a bus or train to work is comparatively thoughtless. Most jobs are pretty much routine. The notion that there is absolutely no thought associated with these daily behaviors is not being suggested here. What is being suggested is that the quality and quantity of such thought is minimal and, for the most part, on a collision course headed for gross marginalization.
It is entirely possible that, by the end of this century, brain implants will be an everyday occurrence; implants that will regulate both thoughts and behavior much like a cardiac pacemaker regulates heart rhythm. A wide range of mental and physical disorders will be correctable via such implants.
If what has been said here is true, how will it alter the kind of civilization the next generation will inherit? How will future historians describe life without thought?
- Professor Eisenberg was born in New York City and now lives in Belleair Bluffs. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. His career consisted of teaching interpersonal/intercultural communication, public speaking, organizational communication, nonverbal communication, group dynamics, and persuasion at four major universities including Pace University and Manhattanville College in New York. His publications include fifteen textbooks on various aspects of communication.