10 Human Adaptations for the Digital Age

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

As I’ve written before, humanity is undergoing a fundamental shift in how we evolve our species and live on this planet. And I’m far from the only writing on this topic. My focus, however, is on humans might adapt to living in this high-technology age. Especially as we must now navigate two worlds; physical and digital. Until the last several decades, we have mostly augmented ourselves physically, adapting to our environment by developing tools that manipulate the real world around us. Agriculture, architecture, engineering.

The interplay between humans and technology has been a mix of us adapting to them and them adapting to us. It is hotly debated as to which influences which. Over the past several decades, arguably since the 1930’s and the first digital computers, we’ve been augmenting our cognitive selves. As humans move into the Cognitive Age, we are yet again facing huge adaptations. And these adaptations will be more rapid than ever before in the history of humanity. Here I explore ten of these adaptations. There will likely be more. This is a start.

So what are the 10 adaptations we can most easily see coming at us and that in order to survive as individuals, communities and societies we will have to make?

10 Human Adaptations of the Cognitive Age

  1. Economic: As digital and crypto currencies along with things like NFT’s and Social Tokens start to become more commonplace, this will shift economic models. Capitalism is changing already, in good and bad ways. As production changes in the digital world and impacts production in the real world, new economic models are inevitable. It’s too early to say exactly how. Author James Plunkett has some ideas here.
  2. Property: The idea of property is different around the world, but very much influenced by Western European models. Native Americans and many other cultures, even today, find the Western European idea very odd. It is. With blockchain and related cultural shifts, how we view and define ownership of property, from land to physical objects will change. This adaptation correlates to economic models, employment, human rights and conflicts.
  3. Employment: The pandemic, we say, had resulted in the Great Resignation. It may have been the catalyst, but the conditions existed well before the pandemic. As economic models shift, so will employment. The gig economy has been an unmitigated disaster for mental-health and workers rights. We will evolve a new model. A necessary adaptation to the shifts going on elsewhere. We may for example, work for 2 or 3 companies at the same time in non-competitive industries doing the same job with benefits and such shared between the employers. This will impact the culture of work and thus, cultures as a whole. This also ties into economic models and property.
  4. Genetics: This is a topic of deep ethical discussion and debate that will also spark lively religious debates and possible interventions. How will we adapt to allowing genes to be extracted or added to an embryo to increase longevity, intelligence or decrease the risk of cancers or genetic mutations with inherited diseases? Much is up for debate and discussion. One example of adaptation here is the transhumanist movement, which believes in leveraging science and technology to enable humans to have more opportunities.
  5. Global Cultures: As I wrote in a previous article, the digital world has reduced the time and space we used to have between cultures, which afforded time to adapt and adopt new technologies and ideas. These “shatter zones” are gone with digital technologies like social media. Global cultures are colliding and mixing. Sometimes this results in conflict (especially when it comes to religion and political ideologies), other times it works out well. Already there are humans that move with ease across multiple cultures and have a global view of cultures. Sociologist Clotaire Rapaille calls them the Global Tribe. How will we adapt to accepting and working with integrated cultures? To varying degrees, we already are.
  6. Conflict: The war in Ukraine has shown us that massive brutality by dictatorships such as Russia are still very much possible. Many thought that because of our global economy, such wars couldn’t happen. Yet it has happened. Conflicts are not going away anytime soon. The world order is going through a change. How this will play out is impossible to predict. But we are likely to see non-state actors taking part with both mercenary armies in the real world and cyberwarfare at greater scale in the future. How will we adapt to supply chain and energy disruptions along with inflationary effects?
  7. Human Rights: Technologies like the internet and social media along with smart devices have opened up the global dialogue on human rights. From exposing genocides like the Uyghurs in China to Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rights. This is putting pressure on established cultures but also on lawmakers. Cultures are adapting. This also means greater pressure on more conservative cultures.
  8. Politics: Human societies have been experimenting with many political forms for hundreds of thousands of years. The internet and social media have played a role in political dialogue from local to global levels. This is unprecedented. It’s been good and bad. But we must figure out how to adapt the public discourse on politics with a greater understanding of the technologies in play.
  9. Environmental: As climate change continues apace, we are finding new technologies to fight it. And to adapt. Using Artificial Intelligence and Big Data analytics, we are figuring out how to adapt cities in water-rise areas and combat drought in dry areas. In areas where heatwaves are becoming more common, we will have to develop more energy efficient technologies to stay cool enough.
  10. Energy: This ties into the environment as well. It also ties into conflict, politics, economics and property. Fossil fuels will run out eventually and they’re causing environmental damage while playing a role in conflicts. With improvements in storage capacities, how will we adapt to an almost limitless supply?

If there’s one thing you might have noted with these 10 adaptations is that they’re very much interrelated. It may all seem very complicated because it is. Humans have made our own existence more complicated and we are suddenly realizing that the natural world around us always was far more complex than we often wanted to.

This is why we need to think more in terms of complex systems when it comes to adaptations and well, just living better in the world we have created. What’s very different in this coming age however, is the speed of change and the scale. Take agriculture for example. As humans, we love to put defined dates on when big things happened in history. This era and that era happened at this time and this place. Tie a bow on it and thank-you very much, isn’t that nice and tidy? Problem is, it’s not that easy or defined. As anthropologist David Graeber shows us, agriculture wasn’t something we just started one day. “oh, hey, let’s plant some stuff and farm on July 20th, 3,803 BC.” Evidence shows that many societies tried agriculture well before 12,000 years ago. Some liked it. Others didn’t. Many treated agriculture like gardening, doing it at small scales and seasonally dependent, moving to other areas in off-seasons. Human cultures and societies adapt at different paces. With the pervasiveness of technologies today however, that time and space is being squashed. Our ability to adapt to that fact alone may prove a huge challenge.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store