Posthuman Problems: On Technology and Society

I published a small roleplaying game last year, titled Posthuman Pathways. It’s a game about transhumanism, the importance of technology, and how it inevitably changes us. It’s a cute little GM’less game; five pamphlets in an envelope that three people can play in an evening. Designing something like that is challenging, but that’s nothing compared to the philosophical and moral challenge that it brought to my door.

Modern society is still trying to grapple with the emergence of new technologies. The technophobes fear that we shall create tools of our own destruction. The technophiles preach from the digital rooftop that these tools will bring about something greater than humanity. Both of these urges pulled on me and the game I designed.

For context, I’m a walking ball of privilege. I’m a physically-able and university-educated white guy from Canada. By day, I’m a professional scientist with a decent income and a good deal of job security. I tend to be a broad proponent for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) education in society as a matter of course, and I have the heart of an intellectual. In short, I’m loaded to bear with biases.

One common complaint about science fiction is that it’s a medium about the danger of upsetting the status quo. Changing things, particularly through science or technology, invariably causes disaster. There’s always a pesky professor reading a book that call infernal or eldritch horror.  Engineers design robots which will destroy us. Researcher study particle physics, biologist try their hand with genetic engineering and everything goes to hell in a hand-basket.  and scientists examining particle physics invariably cause terrible problems that everyone has to deal with.

An example: Caveman Science Fiction
This technophobia runs together with anti-intellectualism that inspires such blights as the anti-vaccination movement or climate change denial. The fact that politicians say “I’m not a scientist, but I think” to justify going contrary to science? This is a problem in my books.

It would be easy to leave it there. Comfortable, even. Life would have been simpler if I had, but I couldn’t help but see the other side.

Despite the technophobia present in society, there is also some danger associated with going too far the other way. I designed a game about transhumanism, and it got me looking very hard at the intellectual threads within that subculture.

There is a status game associated with education. Those on the top are those practitioners of S.T.E.M. disciplines, who just _happen_ to be disproportionately male.
Lower in status are those with “less important” and “fluffy” university degrees in the arts, humanities or social sciences which coincidentally tend to have female students in attendance.

As a general trend, university folks look down on the technical college graduates, who are still considered a step above the trades. You will note how closely tied this ranking is to issues like economics. Why should I be receiving more respect and financial remuneration compared to a plumber, a social worker or a farmer?

What this means is that there is a tendency for those of us with  social and economic power to reinforce and glorify the technological solutions to the world’s problems. We imagine that someone from Silicon Valley will come up with some new “disruptive innovation” that will “save the world”. There is a line of thought that technology will lead to some utopian future by erasing the differences between people.

Lots of games explore science and transhumanism. Shock: Social Science Fiction by Glyphpress recreates social science fiction with a great deal of care. Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios explores technology as a positive form of change while addressing how it can be misused.

I worry about the idea of erasure of identities, of disrupting the current world and the impact that could have on the most marginalized members of society. That’s why I seized upon that care as the philosophical core of Posthuman Pathways. For this game, I chose to address how technology changes the world, and how this new world affects the people within it.

I have hope for what the future might bring, but that depends on us being thoughtful on what we create.

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More about Posthuman Pathways:

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