We're Adapting to a False Reality

I look at my phone a lot. 

At this point it’s almost like scratching an itch — it doesn’t feel like it’s a decision I even consider anymore. It’s instinctual. Practiced. 

I read about the NBA or politics on Reddit, scroll through Instagram, or answer emails. Sometimes I just check to see what time it is, or check to make sure I don’t have any messages. Just a little dopamine to keep me going. 

What’s great is that it’s a world I get to control. I get to decide what apps I have on my phone, the permissions they each have, and what I get to share. Even more than that, if I don’t want to be aware of something, I can just hide it or not like it. Next time it won’t be there. Plus, hundreds if not thousands of data points about what grabs and keeps my attention already exist. 

It’s a world that’s perfectly designed for me! 

People often refer to my generation as inherently more narcissistic than those that have come before us. There are studies that back up those claims using real and legitimate science. As the host of a podcast that aims to counter those narratives, I take issue with these generalizations. 

But that doesn’t mean these studies are wrong. 

I read an article a few years ago that adaptability may actually be an evolved trait in homo sapiens because of the constantly changing climates we’ve managed to survive in. Humans live in almost every possible climate on earth. 

You’re probably reading this on your phone. If you share it, people who have expressed interest in reading similar articles might see it and share it themselves. All those people with similar interests might see it, share it, and so forth. We get to see what we want to see. 

Except the world isn’t like that. Reality just…is. It isn’t what we want to see, and it isn’t what we don’t want to see. It’s everything. Which makes things complicated, nuanced, and very difficult to encapsulate in a tweet. 

Maybe, for the first time in our history, we’re adapting to an environment in a way that will not allow us to thrive. The digital world encourages, and even rewards narcissism. Why would we not evolve to thrive within that system? 

Humor me with a brief thought experiment. 

Maybe sometime in the near, Black Mirror-ey future, scientists will put babies in some sort of hyperrealistic virtual reality to see how they grow within that reality. Their brain patterns and way of perceiving reality would develop to thrive based on an entirely false set of rules. If those children were then one day removed from that “study,” they would be completely unprepared to deal with the real world, because they had learned how to be a human in an entirely false reality. 

Now, I’m not saying that’s what’s happening to all of us right now. We still are living in the real world, as far as I know.  But it’s pretty naive to think that if we’re spending more than 10 hours a day looking at screens, we aren’t developing patterns of behavior based on feedback from the digital world rather than from the physical one. 

So does it make sense that my generation might be, on the whole, more self-centered? Fuck yes it does. 

We’re human beings and we are unmatched in our ability to adapt to our environment. 

But maybe, just maybe, that’s not so great for us this time.