Dr. Greg Velazco y Trianosky
A New Species—the Digital Native
It took 38 years for the radio to reach a market audience of 50 million. It took 13 years for TV to reach an audience of 50 million, the Internet—4 years, I-pod—3 years, and Facebook 2 years. Some may look at that and say—hmm…radio, TV, Facebook is sort of like apple, orange, cloud because the first two are appliances and FB is not but the point is market saturation. The term “went viral” is completely understood now as a metaphor for something that sweeps the internet and gets millions of “hits .” It was very deliberate to choose an object that is fresh and new…so new in fact that researchers can’t keep up with it. The object is the new species of digital native. In 2007 the Public Broadcasting Systems news magazine called Frontline broadcast an investigative report called “Growing Up Online” that focused mainly on technology’s impact on children and adolescents. More recently, “Digital Nation” also produced by Frontline and written by Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin revisited the subject expanding the theme of how technology has impacted humanity. This paper utilizes the Frontline report as a general loose outline that seeks to answer that very important question.
Today it’s not just kids who are plunged into the cyber world of the computer. Many of us are immersed in technology all of the time from multi-tasking to MySpace, Twitter , Facebook, YouTube, MSN Messenger, World of Warcraft, Second Life, email, Solar & Moodle (information management systems used by CSU and other institutions), DVR’s, I-Pads and similar products, smart phones, voice interactive navigational systems, smart boards, continually improving 3D technologies and laptops. These things are thrusting us into the virtual frontier. We’ve come a long way since the days of; “is it real or is it Memorex ?” but that’s not the question I am seeking to answer although if the trend continues, virtual reality will be indistinguishable from real reality. The question I’m seeking to answer is how have these shifts into the digital frontier impacted our culture and how we interact with others on a human level?
Let’s first have a look at how all of this technology has impacted our culture. In the process of doing research for this paper I visited (virtually) the campus of MIT. Douglas Rushkoff visited the same campus and observed, “If anyone were a new species of digital native it would be a MIT student.” These kids are smart and wired and by that I don’t mean they just had a double cappuccino at Starbucks. Looking around the campus you can see kids looking at screens and oftentimes multiple screens. Take Eliza as an example of a “typical” MIT student. She’s a twenty-year-old mechanical engineering student who is completely wired all the time and has a few friends who say of her; “if they hear the word blackberry they think of me…they think I am never off of it—it is glued to me—if it’s more than arms length from me I get panicky—it’s very disconcerting.” Like most universities MIT allows laptops into the classroom at the professor’s discretion but even the professors have noticed what may be dubbed the ADD generation. Professor Sherry Turkle has been teaching at MIT for more than 30 years. She says; “I teach at MIT. I teach the most brilliant students in the world but they have done themselves a disservice by drinking the kool-aid and believing that a multitasking learning environment will serve their best purposes. There really are important things you cannot think about unless it’s still and you’re only thinking about one thing at a time. There are just some things that are not amenable to being thought about in conjunction with fifteen other things .” The students’ counter that the professors need to understand that they are quite capable of multitasking and if they are restricted from doing so it is unfair because they are excellent multitaskers. Nobody at MIT has actually measured whether these kids are as good at multitasking as they say but on the West Coast at Stanford University there are researchers who are studying the effects of multitasking on the brain. Dr. Clifford Nass is a professor at Stanford University and the founder and director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media Lab. He and his colleagues have been studying the effects of multitasking on the human brain. One of the questions that they are seeking to answer is, “how effective are humans at doing more than one or two tasks at the same time?” A second experiment seeks to measure how effective humans are at shifting rapidly from one task to another. Professor Nass says; “We want to study what’s really going on in the brain. These are the first studies of multitaskers’ verses non-multitaskers, so anything we see here is new. You walk around the world and you see people multitasking. They’re playing games and they’re on email and Facebook, yet classic psychology says that’s impossible. No one can do that and in general our brains can’t do two things at once and we want to ask the question how do they do it? Do they have some secret ingredient or some special ability that nobody knows about?” They chose for their test subjects what they considered “chronic multitaskers.” These were students who did five or six tasks at a time all the time and all of these students perceived themselves to be excellent multitaskers. One of the big discoveries is that multitaskers are terrible at ever aspect of multitasking. Nass states; “They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. The recent work we’ve done suggest that they’re worse at analytic reasoning. We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.” The test subjects were not good at ignoring irrelevant information, keeping the information they were processing well-organized or switching from one task to another.
Combating distraction is not as easy as logging off of MSN Messenger. If you turn off your email program or messenger it’s not the software that’s going to complain. It’s the people on the other side wondering why you’re not answering them. According to the latest data most kids are spending more than 50 hours a week on digital media. That’s more than a typical workweek. What is this doing to their brains? So far there is only one neuroscientist of whom this writer is aware who is researching the effects of the Internet on the brain. His name is Dr. Gary Small at UCLA. He says; “you have young people whose brains are not fully developed so how a young person chooses spend his time will have a profound effect on what their brain will be like for the rest of their lives.” He took an MRI of a person who was reading a book and then did another one of the brain on Google. It showed more of the area of the brain was stimulated on Google, in fact, there’s more than a twofold increase in the brain activity. On a brain scan bigger is not necessarily better. If you go to the gym and start lifting weights, at first you’re going to use a lot more energy but as you train you are able to do more with less effort. One could argue that smaller is better—you want to “exercise your brain” so that it works more efficiently. Small’s study was not a confirmation of the Internet’s beneficial effects but it was more of a call for some real research now. So why isn’t anybody doing any research on near constant net use? By the time you design a research study, apply for funding and implement the study the technology is obsolete. The research cannot keep up with the technology. Think about how long it took for us to realize that smoking is bad for your health .
Since when has spending time online become as alarming as drinking, smoking or gambling? Is it an addiction? To find answers to these complicated and important questions, we would do well to turn our attention towards the continent that gained much digital ground over the past decade: Asia. One country that rose to prominence there is South Korea. Their digital culture is defined not by their use of home computers so much as by their Internet cafes known as PC Bangs that are prevalent throughout the major cities offering inexpensive 24/7 high-speed Internet access to kids who want to play video games all day and night. I lived in South Korea and have seen with my own eyes rows and rows of young people sitting at their computers glued to their screens playing Internet games. They seemed so enthralled, engrossed and entranced in the screen and by what was happening in cyberspace that it didn’t seem like they were part of the real world at all. Some kids have actually died at the computer from lack of nourishment during gaming marathons where they spent 50 plus hours on the computer with little or no food or water. It is one of the first places where the Internet was viewed as an addiction. The Korean government commissioned psychiatrist Dr. Ahn Dong-Hyun to conduct a study on Internet addiction, whose findings prompted the government to treat it as a psychiatric disorder. He states that about 90% of Korean children use the Internet in their daily lives. Of those about 10 to 15% are in the high-risk group for net addiction. What started, as a project driven by good intentions, became a public health crisis. Ten years ago South Korea averted economic crisis by fashioning its culture and commerce around digital technology. Its embrace of the online world was broad and deep. It’s not bewildering that South Korea has been one of the first countries to confront the fallout of the digital revolution. Fifteen-year-old Chung Young Il lives in a city South of Seoul. He says; “it’s pretty extreme to play 7 or 8 hours a day. Then on weekends I spend all night on the computer.” In the last year Young Il dropped from the top half of his class to the bottom. His mother says; “when Young Il starts a game he can’t stop. He just plays for hours. I’m not sure but I think he mostly uses the computer to play some sort of fighting game. I wish those games didn’t exist. His inability to communicate with me—his own mother–makes me very sad. I think that if I cannot control him now I may loose my own son. This is an addiction. Only an addict could act this way.” In order to counter the widespread phenomena of addiction, the Korean government has opened free rescue camps. At the recommendation of a teacher, Young Il’s mother sent him to one of these for a two-week time span. Most of the kids there say that they have had to seek medical treatment for conditions that resulted in overuse of the computer. The kid’s treatment is low tech and seems geared toward regaining a childhood that has been lost to the digital ages. They have to give up their cell phones and other technical devices while there. Doug Rushkoff, who wrote a book called Cyberia in the early days of the Internet, visited one of these camps and was struck by how unfortunate it was seeing these kids struggling with their addiction to something he once proclaimed as being completely harmless. It was easy for him twenty years ago to reassure people about the impact of technology on society. Back then he was convinced that the web could help us change in a positive way to evolve into a new human being. Over the last twenty years; however; the net has changed from some irrelevant or merely elitist innovation, into something that steers one’s life by being online and connected all the time. At the time he was a young guy who thought that the old people were simply overreacting–panicking about something they didn’t understand and not giving enough credit to young people who could easily adapt. The Korean government has taken an assertive approach to addressing the social problems caused by the net. At Korean elementary schools kids are taught to go online at about the same time they’re taught how to read. They’re also taught how to use the computer responsibly. It’s required starting in the second grade.
Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia, wrote a book called, “The Dumbest Generation.” It’s filled with data that suggests that kids are not as academically inclined as they used to be before all of the digital distractions. He says; “you will find a lot of English professors saying I can’t assign a novel of over 200 pages—I used to be able to but not anymore. What I would like more than anything else is to prove every harsh judgment in that book flat wrong. We want them to grow up and blow us away with their literacy, their reading and writing skills, their knowledge about history, art and civic activity but we just don’t see it.” Bauerlein cites a 2007 NEA study that shows that while younger student’s reading skills are improving as children get older and ostensibly more wired their reading deteriorates and he claims their writing skills decline as well. He states; “when the Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed college professors about basic skills today as compared to ten years ago only six percent of them said that college students come to them very well prepared in writing. By a two to one margin they said basic skills are worse today than they were a decade ago.” Getting back to Professor Nass from Stanford; “you already hear professors and others talking about changes in the way kids write so that instead of writing in essay, they write in paragraphs. They write a paragraph and say oh now I’ll look at Facebook for a little while or oh a chance to play poker or to do all of these things at once so what we’re seeing is less of a notion of a big idea carried through and much more little bursts and snippets.”
The MIT students referenced earlier confirmed that they are constantly dealing with distractions. One of the questions that people are asking is; “Will the use of computers eventually replace books?” Sentimentalists are saying that the loss of conventional books (with binding and pages) is too high of a price to pay for the transformation to a society where digital books that you download to your computer completely replace old-fashioned books. Marc Prensky, founder and CEO of Games2train says; “the reason why a lot of people are stuck I think is they confuse the old ways—the best ways of doing things once—with the best ways of doing those things forever so it’s not that the kids shouldn’t learn to communicate. It’s not that they shouldn’t learn to express complex ideas—of course they should still learn all those things: That’s what we call the verbs. The nouns that they use whether it’s the paper, the essay, the ray or whatever it is or whether it’s the video or the podcast—that’s what changes. The learning may stay the same but we invent new ways of teaching and I don’t know that the book which was for a long period of time but not that long—maybe a couple of centuries—the way that people did this that was the primary way is the best way for the 21st century.“
Dr. James Paul Gee of Arizona State University believes that there are always gains and losses in human evolution. When print replaced oral culture—when writing happened—there are certainly things we lost. One of them was memory. You think of Olmarik poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Olmarik singers could produce thousands of lines of poetry from their own memory. These were specially trained people who did not represent the whole of humanity but as Dr. Gee points out; “we’re not good at that anymore because print took it away. It is a loss and to a certain extent getting people to be contemplative, not to multitask and pay avid attention over a long period of time has changed but that’s the price you pay for gain.” To add to that: “It isn’t the process of ‘loosing memory’ that occurs, it just isn’t used. The potential is there, but if storing information or using computational methods makes life a lot easier by giving you a foundation higher up the hierarchy, thereby enabling you to focus on much more complicated things, then that is not a bad thing (not necessarily so anyway).” If you were to go back and read descriptions of the progressive era of people walking down the streets of New York City you would see that the idea being bombarded by sensory input is not a new phenomenon. There was a sense of your eyes being pulled in every direction by the rumble of the crowd. Some of the descriptions said that it was like lightening striking you from every direction. “People have been talking about sensory overload since the 1960s. This is something that humans have coped with since the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty first century and the good news is that we’ve survived it.”
Social networking has changed the way people in general relate to each other. Facebook use alone has exploded exponentially over the past three years. In February 2004 Mark Zuckerberg and co-founders Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Eduardo Saverin launched Facebook from their Harvard dorm room. In March of the same year Facebook expanded from Harvard to Stanford, Columbia and Yale. By December Facebook reached 1 million active users. By December 2005 Facebook reached more than 5.5 million active users. In 2006 Facebook rapidly expanded its commercial enterprise by raising $27.5 million from Graylock Partners, Meritech Capital Partners and others as well as by forming a strategic alliance with Microsoft for banner ad syndication. By December of 2006 Facebook had more than 12 million active users. In 2007 Facebook and Microsoft expanded their advertising to cover international markets. By October 2007 Facebook reached over 50 million active users. In 2008 Facebook released a translation application expanding to 21 additional languages and by August of the same year they had over 100 million active users. By December 2009 Facebook reached over 350 million users and as of today Facebook has more than 400 million active users. One story that the raw data does not tell; however; is how Facebook has impacted ordinary people. There is a new form of rejection created by Facebook. It’s no longer a matter of “to be or not to be.” For today’s new species of digital native the question is “to delete or not to delete.” Some people no longer break up, instead they simply delete a person in whom they are no longer interested and this is true not only in cases of romance but also with former friends. Sometimes instead of breaking up they change their relationship status. The following is an actual Facebook interaction:
♥ Janice is listed as single.
Jared: you and dad divorced?
Janice: I forgot to mention that to you
This is just one example among many of how social patterns are changing as a result of the influence of Facebook. The concern from the experts seems to focus on how youth should be taught how to responsibly navigate the wired world. Do immature minds comprehend the privacy issues involved with integrating or utilizing a new networking tool? Do teens grasp the foolishness of posting drunken scantily clad shots of themselves on Facebook for the entire world (including potential future employers) to see? Is Facebook creating a generation of mindless drooling narcissistic sociopaths? Some would point out that it isn’t the younger generation that is having difficulties setting healthy boundaries and using Facebook with any sense of constraint or discretion. Lately there have been stories grabbing the headlines of mature adults engaging in colossally dim-witted activities such as sextexting their mistresses, sending inappropriate sexually charged Instant Messages (IM’s) to the strapping young office interns on the hill or tweeting the location of your congressional delegation’s classified landing site in Iraq. Then there’s the unmitigated idiot in North Carolina who moronically goggled “how to kill a person” just days before murdering his wife. Imagine how Jared must have felt learning about his parent’s divorce on Facebook. These and similar stories point to a trend where it’s not the younger generation who need to be schooled in the pitfalls of interconnectivity. It’s the more mature adults who seem to be devoid of a sense of propriety when it comes to using social networking tools. A Pew Research study released on February 3, 2010 found that among adults 18 and older Facebook has taken over as the social networking tool of choice. Among adult profile owners 73% have a profile on Facebook, 48% have a profile on MySpace and 14% have a LinkedIn profile. It also showed that teens have little interest for Twitter. Only 8% of online teens use Twitter and of those most are tracking the activities of celebrities. A similar question found that 19% of adults use Twitter. A Washington Post article on the Pew report cited comparable findings from other research sources. In a survey of college freshman last year Ester Hargittai of Northwestern University found that 10% of those surveyed had used Twitter only once never twitting again and only 4% use it regularly. She states; “They’re more interested in friends and not keeping in touch with the world more broadly.” Then there are all of the new products whose designers appear to mock the seemingly mindless practice of posting irrelevant information on Twitter. The Rambler Shoes are sneakers designed to tap out a Tweet with each step. A sensor in the shoe sends a Bluetooth signal to your mobile phone, which in turn tweets your steps. There was also a new product released recently called “Puppy Tweets” from Mattel. The owner attaches the collar to their dog and a sensor inside the collar tracks your pet and sends out tweets on their owner’s twitter page. The early natives of the new species of digital native are actually more discriminating and have little interest in blurting insignificant details of their personal lives out to a sea of strangers to say nothing of neglecting to mention to your teenaged son that his parents are going though a divorce. These days’ people depend so much on social networking to maintain a connection with friends and family that it is redefining social norms.
There are those who take who embrace the world of the net as though it were real. The World of Warcraft (WoW) is an online game in which millions of people from around the world enter a virtual universe filled with dragons’ elves and orks called Azeroth by controlling a character called an avatar. In the WoW players can travel through the seas, the skies and by land seeking to defeat monsters, complete quests and engage in various role-playing activities. Katie Salen who is the executive director of the Institute of Play states; “That element of fantasy, that element of imagination is incredibly powerful. You are fully immersed in a world that is telling you a kind of story. We often get this when we watch a film or we read a book that we’re really interested in but games seem to do it even more I think because they create a world that you step into and that’s powerful. You also have people there who help you work on a problem.” There are gamers who meet each other in “flesh space” (that’s what internet junkies call reality) at gaming conventions. One can find a diverse group of people at one of these conventions. America’s embrace of online gaming might not be as prominent as it is in South Korea but it seems to be fueled by a different desire—the urge to connect to other people. One of the gamers at a gaming convention says; “We’ve all spent hundreds of hours together. My traditional style of friends outside the game—none of them do I spend 16 hours a week with week in and week out. I mean I’ve known some of these folks for years.” Another player says; “people who do not game and do not have the experience do not understand the friendships, the connections and how close you can get to someone you haven’t seen.” A sizeable number of American players struggle with compulsive gaming. One says; “I got so into WoW that I would get up at 9 or 10 in the morning and I’d play straight through the day and I wouldn’t log off until one or two in the morning. I even quit my job because I really didn’t want to do anything other than World of Warcraft.” The relationships people forge in these games seem to have a particularly intense quality. There are even people who are now married couples who met in the game. One might think that technology isolates people but in this case it appears that it brings people closer together. In some cases technology allows people to do things that they have dreamed about but previously found it impossible. Philip Rosedale is the creator of a virtual world called Second Life. He explains that; “I remember from the time I was young wondering does it get better than this? A virtual world is a world that we dream about and it’s a place where you can create and discover things that you can’t imagine.” Second Life is a place where you create an avatar and through it you enter a virtual world where you can do everything you can do in real life and much more. If you visit Rosedale’s offices you will find his workers at desks engaged in a virtual world. He holds meetings in virtual space. He is confident that you can solve the problem of social isolation brought about by technology with more technology. IBM is an example of a company that has shifted much of its day-to-day business into virtual worlds. Francoise Legoues, VP of Innovative Initiatives, IBM says; “We’re just putting the matrix in place but we’ve estimated that we’ve saved over a million dollars just by not flying to meetings.” One of the goals of creating these virtual worlds goes beyond trying to save money on travel. They are trying to recapture the human touch lost by a shift to a technological culture. IBM employees have meetings with their team members from around the world without leaving their home offices. IBM built an office park in upstate New York as a hub for its employees. Today it looks like a ghost town because it has been largely abandoned. It’s not that IBM let all of it’s people go—it’s just that the instead of coming into an office—the employees stay at home and conduct their business virtually.
Jeremy Balimson, a Stanford University professor, runs the Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. His research shows that the distinctions between real and virtual are becoming blurred. He says; “we’re not wired to differentiate between wired stuff and real stuff.” His most startling work involves kids. When children swim with whales in the virtually world if you ask them a week later they will believe that they have actually gone to SeaWorld and swam with real whales. This brings up some interesting questions. If the brain isn’t wired to differentiate between virtual and actual reality does that mean that there will be a new branch of psychology to treat neurosis that develop in the virtual world? That may seem like a sarcastic question but it certainly is not.
The United States Military has set up large high tech digital recruiting stations in shopping malls modeled after the Apple Store. The idea is similar to Apple’s and that is to get people in using the product and hope they’ll want more. The product in the military is—well—war. How do you sell war? It’s easy. You bring in members of the new species of digital native to the Army Experience Center, set them down at virtual reality machines and allow them to kill virtual people, blow up virtual villages, take off in virtual helicopters and ride on virtual humvees. Of course parents have protested these centers. As has been discussed in class we like to think ourselves a peace loving people who would prefer to hire Black Water contractors to do the really nasty business of killing the enemy and the idea of targeting teenagers by promoting war to those who are clearly digital natives using technology is a hard pill to swallow.
There’s a new series on the SyFy network called “Caprica” that takes virtual worlds to a new level. The series is a prequel of the original Battlestar Galactica series that takes us back 58 years before the time of the gigantic space vessel. The planet is Caprica and its human inhabitants are at about the same technological level as us. They use cell phones, text message, and have integrated technology into their daily lives. The point of departure is that they are more advanced in the development of robotic technology and virtual reality. The story follows the lives of two families—the Graystones and the Adamas. The Graystone family includes the father, Daniel Graystone, Caprica’s answer to Bill Gates, who is a billionaire computer scientist and his wife Amanda—a medical doctor and surgeon. The series pilot opens with their daughter Zoe placing a VR band on her eyes that takes her into a virtual world full of all kinds of tantalizing images. At first glance it looks a lot like one of the hot nightclubs in Hollywood but at this club there is loud party music and hundreds of young people engaged in dancing, fistfights, group sex and ritualistic shootings. It’s called “the V Club” and from a balcony above the stage Zoe watches and is joined by her two friends Ben Stark and Lucy Rand. There on the balcony Ben promises Zoe that the copy will be perfect because she is perfect. Together they survey the scene and appear to deplore the hedonism and depravity going on around them. On the dance floor a muscle man displays a knife to the audience and a dancer emerges onstage as her face alternates from man to monster seemingly as a lighting effect. Another girl is dragged to the stage to the sound of the audience chanting; “kill, kill, kill.” The muscle man takes his knife and kills the girl as the frenzied audience breaks out into thunderous cheering. At that instant Zoe looks horrified and suddenly vanishes. Back in the real world Zoe continues to immerse herself in the V Club experience until another girl opens the bathroom stall where she’s hiding and discovers her jolting Zoe back to reality. Outside the Athena Academy Zoe, Ben and Lacy meet in flesh space and talk about running away to Gemenon . They finish by pledging themselves to the “one true god.”
Back at the beautiful high tech Graystone mansion Zoe’s parents are playing a game of high-tech tennis but are interrupted by a phone call from the Athena Academy about Zoe who informs them that their daughter has been having some problems in school. Later on as the family gathers in the kitchen they confront Zoe about some of the things that had been brought to their attention by the school officials. Zoe is upset so she runs to her room, slams the door and retreats into her make-believe world. She hurries to a secret room inside the V Club where she meets her own copy—a computer generated image of herself. They talk for a while about the horror of the human sacrifice and how the audience knew what they were doing and seemed to draw strength from it.
The next day mother and daughter are in a car on their way to school. There is tension and both are quiet. Once she arrives at the academy Zoe meets her two friends Ben and Lucy and they head straight to the Metro station where at the last minute Lacy announces that she will be unable to join them on the trip to Gemenon. Zoe and Ben board what appears to be a high-speed train and are whisked away. Moments later Ben announces his allegiance to “the one true god” just before detonating a hidden bomb that destroys the train.
So far, they’ve dealt with religious extremism and terrorism. In this story there is no generation gap in terms of the kids being more “wired” than the parents but then again Zoe’s dad is a computer engineer. The story takes an interesting twist when after dying in the terrorist explosion Zoe’s dad discovers her VR strip, puts it on and is taken to the Club V. In it, he encounters his daughter’s avatar, which in this society where VR technology is superior to our own appears to be just like the real Zoe. First he speaks to a business associate and asks about kids hacking the “halobands” and going into a VR world. His colleague says; “it’s only been an underground phenomenon for about five years now” sarcastically (as though he should be aware of such things since he invented and his company manufactures the halobands). He returns to the VR and seeks out his daughter only this time he brings an escort—Zoe’s friend. Here’s an excerpt from the script. The setting is the Graystone mansion. Somebody is at the door and a robot answers the door.
Robot: Welcome Lacy Rand.
Lacy: May I come in?
Robot: Your security authorization is still valid. Please enter.
Lacy: Thanks. I’m just going to go to Zoey’s room.
Robot: As you wish.
Lacy goes to Zoey’s room where she starts to look frantically for Zoey’s holoband. Daniel Graystone enters the room.
Daniel: Looking for this? (Daniel is holding a holoband) Pardon my appearance but I’ve been up all night trying to crack the one of the better security codes I’ve ever run up against. I’ve been to the V Club. I’ve seen her. I saw her go into a room with the infinity symbol on the door. Now I don’t have any idea what this means or how it’s possible but I have a feeling you do.
Lacy: I’m sorry Dr. Graystone.
Daniel: I need to see her.
Once inside the V Club Daniel asks…
Daniel: What goes on here?
Lacy: Pretty much anything. No limits—that’s the motto. Down there’s the kill zone. Walk in, get a gun and start shooting. Down there’s the group sex and drugs room, keep going past that and you’ll find the really gross stuff. (As the tour continues…)
This is the fight room. You can frackin beat anyone you want.
Daniel: What’s this?
Lacy: Human sacrifice.
Daniel: What? (Shocked)
Lacy: Virgins. They offer them to Hicotta—goddess of the underworld.
Daniel: When I created the holoband, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.
Lacy: Yeah, right. The porn sites were the first ones to license that technology every one knows that.
Daniel: But that’s different. That’s for adults.
Lacy: Zoey always said you could rationalize anything.
Daniel: So what? You and Zoey came here for sex?
Lacy: At first Zoey and I used the group sex rooms like everyone else but after Ben showed us the way; the way , we saw this place for what it was. Trash.
Daniel: The way?
Lacy: There is good and there is evil in this world. There is right and there is wrong. But only through the one true god can we know the difference and Zoey knew because Zoey knew god. And god touched her heart and gave her the ability to create life itself.
They come to a large steel door with the infinity symbol on it. Lacy touches the symbol, which lights up and the door opens. They enter a large, quiet room where they find Zoey seated. She stands to meet them.
Zoey: Why’d you bring him here?
Lacy: He needs you Zoe.
Zoey’s Avatar: Hi daddy. I thought that was you at the club yesterday but I got away before you saw me. I guess I wouldn’t make a very good spy.
Daniel: You’re an avatar—a virtual representation of Zoey—nothing more.
Zoey: I’m a little more than that, a lot more actually. I’m sort of her as crazy as that sounds. I am her… I’m Zoey Graystone.
Daniel: Zoey is dead.
Zoe: I know and I’m so sorry about that. More than you can know. She was like my twin sister. No that’s not right either… she was more than that. She was like a close up of one other. It’s hard to describe.
Daniel: (speaking to Lacy) Okay what is this really? Did Zoey hack some kind of rudimentary emulation software or something?
Zoe: she said it was a combination of hacks and some…
Daniel: (irritated and interrupting–turning toward Zoe) Okay that’s enough. (Turning back to Lacy) What was the purpose of this thing?
Zoe: I’m not a thing.
Daniel: (raising his voice) I’m not going to argue with a digital image.
Zoe: The human brain contains roughly 100 terabytes of information. Not much when you get right down to it. The question isn’t how to store but how to access it. You can’t download a personality, there’s no way to translate the data but the information being held in our heads is available in other databases. People leave more than a footprint as they travel through life. Medical scans, DNA profiles, psych evaluations, school records, emails, recording, video, audio, cat scans, genetic typing, synaptic records, security cameras, test results, shopping records, talent shows, ball games, traffic tickets, restaurant bills, phone records, music lists, movie tickets, TV shows…(she gets up in his face) even prescriptions for birth control. (Zoe turns and walks away).
The idea of a virtual world that is so real that a father could enter it and see a recreation of his recently deceased daughter brings up a lot of interesting questions. I wonder what Plato would say about this world that is far more realistic than the shadows in “the cave.” If as the researchers suggest the human brain isn’t wired to distinguish between the real world and the virtual world—especially if the technology is so advanced that the virtual world is indistinguishable from the real—it brings into question what kind of realities would we create for ourselves if it were possible to do so with such detail and accuracy as is shown in Caprica. The writers have created a society that is very much like our own and it doesn’t seem as though what they’re portraying here is too far off in the distant future. They deal with contemporary issues such as religious fanaticism, youth rebellion, terrorism, corporate greed, and a culture that is in decay largely due to the older generation’s lack of due diligence. I don’t want to digress but Thomas Metzinger has some interesting theories on this topic that will be dealt with at another time.
Later in the virtual world Daniel has calmed down considerably and is having a rather nostalgic conversation with his daughter’s avatar.
Zoe: I remember that…you put me up on your shoulders so I could see the band as it marched by but we were standing under a lamppost. I smashed my head so hard I saw stars.
Daniel: I took you to the emergency room as a precaution.
Zoe: I hated that…the sound of the doctors, the sites, the smells but you were holding my hand the whole time. You said you wouldn’t let go.
Daniel: She could’ve programmed those memories into you but it’s a lot of detail for such an insignificant event. It’s possible that she found a way to transfer synaptic records into useable data.
Zoe: She did.
Daniel: Yes but a person is much more than just a bunch of useable data. You might be a good imitation—a very good imitation—but you’re still just an imitation. A copy.
Zoe: I don’t feel like a copy. Daddy.
Daniel: Can I (hesitates) may I hold you.
They embrace. Immediately the scene shifts to the real world where Daniel can be seen plugging a flash drive into the holoband. Inside the virtual world we see Zoe’s avatar decomposing.
Lacy: What are you doing to her? Stop it Dr. Graystone. Stop. (In the real world they remove the halobands and Lacy asks) what did you do to her?
Daniel: I captured her avatar.
Daniel: Time for you to leave. (Lacy gets up—and rushes out the door—Daniel speaks to the robot) Surge…cancel Lacy Rand’s security clearance.
Surge (robot): Yes sir.
Eerie music plays as they roll the credits.
How is Caprica relevant with answering the question posed in the introduction: how have these shifts into the digital frontier impacted our culture? It portrays what could easily become our society in the not too distant future and it exemplifies a common theme found in SyFy and that is that the computers we’ve created will one day destroy us. Later on as the story evolves into Battlestar Galactica the Cylons turn on humanity and this theme can be seen in the Matrix, I-Robot, the Terminator series and a host of other SyFy plots. There is certainly more research that needs to be done on the cultural impact of technology and its affect on the brain but I would say that adapting to technology is not likely to destroy us and it isn’t necessarily dumbing us down. To the contrary: I’m sitting in front of a computer right now and have the entire net at my disposal to research the topic.
Disclaimer: the citations (29) were in the form of footnotes and were lost when uploaded to WordPress.
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