The Oji-Cree have been in contact with European settlers for centuries, but it was only in the nineteen-sixties, when trucks began making the trip north, that newer technologies like the internal combustion engine and electricity really began to reach the area. The Oji-Cree eagerly embraced these new tools. In our lingo, we might say that they went through a rapid evolution, advancing through hundreds of years of technology in just a few decades.
The good news is that, nowadays, the Oji-Cree no longer face the threat of winter starvation, which regularly killed people in earlier times. They can more easily import and store the food they need, and they enjoy pleasures like sweets and alcohol. Life has become more comfortable. The constant labor of canoeing or snowshoeing has been eliminated by outboard engines and snowmobiles. Television made it north in the nineteen-eighties, and it has proved enormously popular.
But, in the main, the Oji-Cree story is not a happy one. Since the arrival of new technologies, the population has suffered a massive increase in morbid obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Social problems are rampant: idleness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide have reached some of the highest levels on earth. Diabetes, in particular, has become so common (affecting forty per cent of the population) that researchers think that many children, after exposure in the womb, are born with an increased predisposition to the disease. Childhood obesity is widespread, and ten-year-olds sometimes appear middle-aged. Recently, the Chief of a small Oji-Cree community estimated that half of his adult population was addicted to OxyContin or other painkillers.
From Tim Wu over at The New Yorker. What is the sofalarity?
Technological evolution has a different motive force. It is self-evolution, and it is therefore driven by what we want as opposed to what is adaptive. In a market economy, it is even more complex: for most of us, our technological identities are determined by what companies decide to sell based on what they believe we, as consumers, will pay for. As a species, we often aren’t much different from the Oji-Cree. Comfort-seeking missiles, we spend the most to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. When it comes to technologies, we mainly want to make things easy. Not to be bored. Oh, and maybe to look a bit younger.
Our will-to-comfort, combined with our technological powers, creates a stark possibility. If we’re not careful, our technological evolution will take us toward not a singularity but a sofalarity. That’s a future defined not by an evolution toward superintelligence but by the absence of discomforts.
Ah yes, it's the Wall-E scenario. If we are not careful, technology may lead us to a corrupted Maslow's hierarchy of needs in which the top rung is not self-actualization but the absence of discomfort.
Maybe we will follow a trail of in-app purchases there. Someone who has finished Candy Crush Saga, let me know if, when you complete the game, a video plays showing the developer laughing at you and shouting, “Suckerrrrrrrr!”