During the final section of “You Are Not A Gadget”, Lanier starts talking about neoteny and uses this as a metaphor for computer growth. Neoteny is when some childlike or juvenile features are still present in adult animals. As time goes by, people are making changes more slowly in a way. We grow up at a slower rate, for example, people now tend to get married later in life and start a family when they are older than their parents were. This might also have to do with the advancement of technology as we now have a bigger expected lifespan so there isn’t as much “rush”.

The way Lanier links neoteny to computers starts with evolution and comparing us to other animals. Neoteny is almost like a strategy, and as time has gone on, it has evolved. A clear example would be when you compare humans to horses. After it is born, it will take a foal thirty minutes to stand up and walk around, this is after some failed tries, but it still gets up thirty minutes after its birth. A human baby is nothing like this, human babies can’t stand up and walk on their own until they are 9 months, and up to 18 months old. But this isn’t necessarily an issue, we learn these important life skills during our childhood, we might be “dumber” when we are born, but we grow up to be smarter than any of them (in most cases, some people are still pretty incapable of doing things on their own….). Our level of neoteny has probably risen over the course of history, and this can clearly be seen in a wide variety of aspects.

Warmblood Horse Stock Illustrations, Images & Vectors | Shutterstock

Interested in the idea of neoteny that Lanier introduces, I did some research and found an article by Ed Yong for National Geographic. In this article, Yong explains the difference between our brain development and that of chimps. Yong claims that in some aspects of life, it takes longer for our brain to develop than it does for chimps and as adults, some of our physical features are similar to those of immature, young chimps. I thought that this was pretty interesting, as often some people say that chimps and humans have a lot in common, but what I found was interesting is the fact that our brain takes longer to develop than theirs. Through the explanation of some research in which human and chimp brains were analyzed, Yong concludes that a big difference in brain development speed is reached at the start of adolescence. When we are younger, our brains develop at a similar rate to those of chimps, but as we reach adolescence, the difference in rate quickly increases. Although it might take longer for us to mature, this extra time that we’ve got helps us learn new things and skills which are useful during our adult life. Chimps, however, don’t get this opportunity.

Marxist Theory of Art: The origins of art, part 3: Neoteny and culture

As mentioned before, Lanier links neoteny to computers and in particular to software development. Lanier has talked about this before, how software development, and the speed at which it develops, doesn’t necessarily need to speed up at the same rate as hardware improvements. It tends to slow down as the bigger and more powerful a computer gets, the more errors you will find as programs also grow.

And with all these advancements in technology our neoteny also “rises”. The average life span has been extended thanks to improvements in a lot of areas. Since we are now expected to have a bigger life span, we start to take things at a slower pace, so things that people used to do during their teen years, we now do during our twenties. When people used to get married and start a family during their twenties, we are now waiting until our thirties. And the list of examples can just go on. But there are issues regarding equality of access here. A digital divide is obviously created as not every country can afford all this new technology. The improvements we see in agriculture, might not, and are not, taking place in remote villages in Africa. We might be expecting to live for longer than our ancestors, but this isn’t the same for everybody. We have access to all this new and great technology, but a lot of people don’t.

However, to what extent is this good? I remember having a conversation not so long ago with an artist who told me that some kids nowadays are incapable of doing anything with their hands. And these aren’t kids much younger than me, just four or five years younger. Technology has grown a lot over the past few decades, but new improvements are made constantly. I obviously grew up in a world where technology was popular and we depended on it for a lot of reasons, but these kids have grown surrounded by it and are incapable of doing anything without it, they depend on it. When I was little, and even now, I loved to draw. I loved having competitions with my siblings and parents, and the simple activity of drawing was one of my favorite hobbies. I didn’t have an iPad when I was little, I don’t have an iPad now, but a lot of kids from this younger generation were almost born with it. I guess in some ways it is also easier for the parents, just give your child the iPad and they will stop crying, but in some areas,  this has had a negative impact on the child. Which brings me back to my conversation with this artist. These kids are not as comfortable when doing work with their own hands, they are now dependent on technology and while a lot of paths will require this technology in the future, some will be closed for them, and those kids who didn’t grow up with all this technology will have advantages in a range of areas.

Reasons Why Technology is Here to Stay | Blog | SP Jain School of Global Management

To add to this, I read an article by Anastasia Moloney for The Tot. In this article, Moloney talks about the effect that technology is having on young children’s lives and then goes on to talk about how to prevent abusing this technology and expanding basic life skills they might not be exposed to while using technology. I was particularly interested in the start of her article where she discusses the effect of technology on child development. Moloney claims that technology has positive effects on child development, and in some areas,  I have to agree. Moloney suggests that technology helps in areas such as improved hand-eye coordination, multi-tasking, and reaction times. While all of this is true, if not used properly, technology can have very negative impacts on children’s development.

Gadget Images | Free Vectors, Stock Photos & PSD

As there is an increase in the use of technology and screen time that kids are getting, there is also a decrease in hours they spend reading, for example. Moloney also implies that a lot of bocks of text found on digital devices only contain 140 characters or even less, so children are not used to reading big blocks of text which leads to worse critical thinking skills. Children’s attention span has also gotten worse due to an increase in the use of technology. Children are now more distracted and don’t focus as much on what is around them. Moloney also claims that their imagination isn’t developing as well, due to the lack of reading and imaginative play. Another big issue is one that is usually discussed: privacy and safety. Children aren’t always safe online and they can be exposed to things they shouldn’t be exposed to. Moloney talks a lot about social media, while social media might help us communicate with those who aren’t near us, it is also important to teach kids how to have conversational and social skills without technology. It is important that children can interact with other children in a social environment. Social media can also have effects on a child’s social and emotional development and their self-esteem, as they are exposed to things that, although not necessarily true, might make them feel bad about themselves, and make them want to change some of the things they do or think to be like everyone else and not be judged.

3 Internet Habits To Keep Kids Smart and Safe | Integrity Computers

I quite liked the article by Moloney, as it clearly highlights and discusses how this growing technology is affecting children’s lives as they are born into a world where technology is vital.

Baby, child, phone, smart, smartphone, technology, toddler icon - Download on Iconfinder

Lanier goes on to talk about cephalopods, which is a family of sea creatures which would include octopuses and squids. He talks in particular about a species which is capable of morphing, according to Lanier, this species could be an example of what extraterrestrial creatures might be like and their level of intelligence. Cephalopods’ brain can have more potential than the mammal brain, they can think in 3D and can morph, which Lanier believes would be great to develop in some technological way, as these would be great skills in a high-tech future.

However, they lack something that we have: neoteny. Childhood, which Lanier refers to as our “secret weapon”, is not a part of their life. Baby cephalopods are on their own from the moment they are born, some have even been seen looking through their eggs before they are born, and they react to the world from these transparent eggs. Parenting isn’t a thing for them, anything that a parent learns during their life, will not be passed onto their offspring, so baby cephalopods start with a blank slate, and need to make it on their own. Lanier suggests that if these baby cephalopods learned from their parents, they would be a lot more powerful.

Lanier seems to be truly amazed by cephalopods and their ways. He goes on to talk about some footage, where a giant cuttlefish wants to eat a crab. The cuttlefish is mostly soft-bodied while the crab has an “armor”. As the cuttlefish approaches the crab, the crab snaps into an aggressive posture and waves its sharp claws at the cuttlefish. But this doesn’t bring the cuttlefish down, instead, across its skin, weird images, bright colors, and waves which Lanier claims look like lightning bolts, move all across its skin, which disorients the crab. The cuttlefish takes this confusion to its advantage and strikes. This isn’t a common way of hunting, but surely an impressive one.

Disco squid' puts on technicolor light show when it gets 'excited' | Daily Mail Online

I quite like the last section of the book as Lanier links natural and evolutionary processes to technology and how things could grow and improve based on these natural processes. It is a bit different than the rest of the book, but I think it was a very good ending and easy to understand. I have really enjoyed reading this book and have learned a lot thanks to it.



Here’s the original article by Ed Yong


Here’s the original article by Anastasia Moloney





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