CHAPTER 10: EPILOGUE - PERSON-AS-CAUSEThe Triad Model, introduced in Section 3.1, suggested three scenarios for the future - ecosphere-as-cause, sociosphere-as-cause, and technosphere-as-cause. The future studies literature could be classified as optimistic and pessimistic versions of those three scenarios. What scenario is favored here? In Section 3.1, the assimilation-and-accommodation model of Jean Piaget was presented. It suggests a technosphere-as-cause scenario. The shifts in the sociosphere are seen as accommodations to the assimilation of each generation of media. In Section 7.1, the challenge-and-response model of Arnold Toynbee was presented. It suggests a sociosphere-as-cause scenario. The shifts from generation to generation of media within the technosphere are viewed as responses to the challenges of corresponding shifts from hunter-gatherer to agricultural to industrial to information societies in the sociosphere.
I've often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they're on, why they don't fall off it, how much time they've probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on. I tried to write one once. It was called Welcome to Earth. I got stuck on explaining why we don't fall off the planet.
Kurt Vonnegut Junior in Afterword to Marlo Thomas, Free to Be - You and Me
It is tempting to identify the four generations of media, respectively, with the four generations of society which characterize human history - hunter-gatherer, agricultural, industrial, and information societies. Let us succumb to this temptation. In doing so, we are committed only to the argument that there is a correlation between each generation of media and the corresponding generation of society. Correlation does not necessarily imply cause. Thus, we are committed neither to cultural determinism - media is a response to the challenge of a shift in society, nor to technological determinism - shifts in media push us into a qualitatively different society. Two variables can be correlated because they are both effects of a third causal variable.94
The shifts in media and in society are both effects of human nature. It is the person in the center who is behind the changes in both the sociosphere and the technosphere. The person is the cause underlying the correlation between the sociosphere and the technosphere. This is my argument for dropping charges of technological determinism and cultural determinism. This chapter will focus on the person-as-cause scenario. The Big Story of historical time told here - the co-evolution of the person and media as extensions - can be viewed as the unfolding of the potential of human nature.
Our neglect of the ecosphere - in this book and in general - is partly due to our arrogant assumption that we are apart from nature rather than a part of nature. A cat lover would protest if you pointed out that it could not sit up and beg, roll over and play dead, or walk behind you as does your dog. That's dog nature. Cat lover would also recognize that they can not herd their cats - even though there are only two of them. That's sheep nature. So there is dog nature, sheep nature, and presumably even cat nature, but not human nature. We are the unique animal with no "nature". This assumption underlies much of social science. As argued above, the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) assumes that the mind is a "tabula rasa" (see Section 1.1) and it can not thus make much sense of a world in which the major causal agency is human nature.
This book is about you. Let's summarize some of what's known about you.
At the moment when the sperm of your father merged with the ova of your mother to create the zygote (the single cell which evolved into you) you received the conception-day gift - the wisdom accumulated by our species over millions of years of survival in a harsh arena, plus "three score and ten years" within which to add a footnote to this wisdom. The culmination of this evolutionary process is memory and speech - the means of storing and transmitting information using extragenetic tools. Those tools, outside the genetic code but still inside the body, can be considered as a first generation of media.
During historical time, you have acquired tools for storing information outside your body (print and film), for transmitting information outside your body (telephone and television), and for both storing and transmitting information outside your body (multimedia and internet). Those extrasomatic tools can be considered as the second, third, and fourth generations of media.
You evolved for a hunter-gatherer society. The recent shifts to an agricultural society, then an industrial society, and now to an information society, can be linked respectively to the second, third, and fourth generations of media. You are thus no different from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. As a member of our amazingly adaptive species, you have been able to deal with those dramatic changes in society largely by mastering your extrasomatic tools. Our species has an incredible capacity for adaptation, as attested by the evidence throughout this book that we hunter-gatherers have adapted to an agricultural then an industrial and now an information society. We have also adapted over space as well as time - we have made the entire planet our ecological niche and are even contemplating adapting to other planets. It is this incredible cultural diversity over time and space that tempts us to argue that there is no such thing as human nature. Ironically, it is our incredible adaptability - the essence of evolution - which suggests to some people that we are no longer subject to its principles.
You are essentially no different from me - or anyone else. We are all members of the same species on the same planet in the same basic predicament - being born without our permission, dying against our will, and trying to figure out how best to spend the time in the interval, with essentially the same equipment. A brain is a brain is a brain. Human nature is universal. It is this realization, whether conscious or unconscious, that motivates us to communicate at all. Communion must precede tele-communication.
We are all hunter-gatherers, whether we live in a hunter-gatherer, an agricultural, an industrial, or an information society. Those shifts in the sociosphere, and the corresponding shifts in the technosphere, can take place within historical time. However, basic human nature can not change within historical time. Evolution works within a larger time scale. Nature is very democratic. We all receive the same conception-day gift. Thus we all have the potential to be fully human just as the acorn has the potential to be an oak tree and the kitten has the potential to be a cat. The mystery then is not the genius of Margaret Mead or Albert Einstein (substitute whoever you think most fully realized the human potential) but why we are not all Meads or Einsteins.
What is human nature? A broad picture of the person is emerging from empirical research by psychologists. Consider yourself as a child letting go of your mother's apron strings and venturing out to explore and manipulate the world but rushing back to the secure base when frightened. As you get older and older, you venture out further and further and stay out longer and longer. Neal Armstrong got all the way to the moon without his mother. However, throughout your life, you are always balancing the contentment of familiar things (the suburban home, the corner pub, the secure job, or whatever has replaced the mother's apron) and the excitement of unfamiliar things.
When I described this model to a friend of mine, he said that he is not balancing contentment and excitement but walking a tightrope between fear and boredom. We realized that he was saying the same thing - only phrased negatively, since that's the kind of guy he is. Boredom is the negative side of contentment and fear is the negative side of excitement. I'd rather face the fear whereas he would rather face the boredom.95
Mature people, like my friend, who have decided there are certain things they like and stick to them, provide the necessary stability to society. The down side is that they are the "conservatives" who resist each generation of media (see Section 3.3 and Section 5.3) and ensure that inefficient ways of doing things will persist (see the discussion of the Qwerty keyboard in Section 5.3 and the discussion of the educational system as a gigantic qwerty phenomenon [GARDINER 2002].
Meanwhile, people like me are continuing like children to explore and manipulate the world. There is a vast body of empirical evidence for a need for stimulation and another vast body of empirical evidence for a need for consistency, which I've summarized elsewhere [GARDINER 1980]. The need for stimulation is the organic basis for our need to know and the need for consistency is the organic basis for our need to understand (we need to organize what we know into a coherent framework). The need for stimulation underlies assimilation and the need for consistency underlies accommodation. We are self-organizing systems, evolving through alternating assimilations and accommodations a more and more complete and a more and more accurate subjective map of the objective world [KAUFFMAN].
As we explore and manipulate the world, we make discoveries about it and inventions from it. If there is a "market" for our inventions, then they are assimilated into society and society changes, if necessary, to accommodate them. There was a market for the innovations in media as society changed and the media, in turn, changed the society. Thus human nature is the underlying cause of the correlated changes in media and in society.
Your behavior is determined not so much by the world as it is but by the world as you see it. That is why we had to add a second story to our Triad Model representing the subjective map of the objective world (see Figure 4-1). A tree will not affect your behavior unless you see it, whereas an enemy that you imagine to be lurking behind the tree will affect your behavior. The unseen tree is part of the objective world but not of your subjective map, whereas the enemy is part of your subjective map but not of the objective world. To the user-friendly principle - what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) we can add the person-aware principle - what you expect is what you get (WYEIWYG). We are all self-fulfilling prophets.
One aim of this book is to alter your subjective map of the objective world. Let us look, by way of example, at two phenomena which can be seen in a different light than "normal" as a result of reading it. The evolutionary psychology perspective of this book suggests that we should shift emphasis from privacy to autonomy (Section 10.2) and from information overload to complexity (Section 10.3).
94 For example, there is a correlation between the salaries of professors and the consumption of alcohol. This correlation does not necessarily (hic! hic!) imply cause. Both variables are effects of an underlying cause - the general increase in wealth.
95 We always had the same discussion when we went out to eat.
He: Let's go to Joe's.