The Four-Dimensional Human is a reflection on the digital age, exploring how 21st century humans are dealing with changes brought about by modern technologies. The internet has transformed how people live, from communicating to doing business, but this book is concerned with how it’s changing our consciousness. Laurence Scott’s thought-provoking insights invite us to question what lies in store for the so-called four-dimensional human.
The idea of a fourth dimension became popular in the 19th century, defined by Scott as ‘a space into which one might travel, a world that could be reached if only the right conduit or portal could be found.’ The internet has become a fourth dimension for us in the 21st century, but it’s no longer a space that we enter and leave. Back in the days of the dial-up modem, it felt like the internet was a separate entity, a destination that we journeyed to. But now it permeates our existence, and Scott argues that we’re ‘simply, immovably, online.’ Rather than scare mongering or preaching about how terrible the internet is, he ponders the effects these changes are having on us.
Social media is examined in detail, as this is one of the most obvious examples of the internet’s impact on the way we live. While Scott isn’t saying anything new or remarkable, he offers some perceptive points using famous figures from literature like Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster to illustrate them. Scott contemplates how social media allows us to construct a narrative of our lives, giving us the freedom to present ourselves to others however we like.We’re constantly ‘upgrading’ ordinary moments by sharing them online (i.e. posting our meals on Instagram), but are we losing out by not appreciating a moment for what it is? Why do we feel the need to make everything into an event? Does looking at the edited version of people’s lives make us compare ourselves to them, causing us to feel inferior? At what point does Facebook stalking become unhealthy? These are some of the things speculated, and Scott provides his own humorous anecdotes that most of us can definitely relate to.
When analysing the ways technology saturates daily life, naturally we have to look at the unsettling aspects of it (and there are many of these). Scott writes about some of the more sinister and invasive elements of the internet, such as surveillance, targeted advertising and companies like Google that make it hard to be anonymous and untraceable. There seem to be never ending studies warning us about the dangers of being addicted to our smartphones, how they’re shortening our attention spans, making us distracted, negatively affecting our sleep, how they may cause cancer. However, it’s not total doom and gloom; it probes this feeling of claustrophobia that comes with being a four-dimensional human.
The digital world is relatively young and still evolving, which is exciting but at the same time brings certain anxieties about the future. Our perpetual online status is undoubtedly changing how we think and behave, but whether this is advantageous or damaging probably won’t be clear for quite some time. This book is ideal for people who are fascinated with debates around technology’s impact on us, but it doesn’t present any original points that aren’t already being discussed elsewhere.
The Four-Dimensional Human is published by Windmill Books on 5 May 2016.