One of the predictions in my book, The Dilbert Future (1997), is that holodeck technology, as shown in Star Trek, will spell the end of humanity. As soon as sex and marriage in the simulated world of the holodeck become better than the real thing, no one will bother with the expense, stress, and inconvenience of actual procreation. Today I’m going to double down on that prediction, but instead of blaming it on holodeck technology, or sexy robots, I’ll blame the Internet in general.
Young couples in the 1950s got as much enjoyment from spending time together as any young couple might today. I assume the sex felt just as good back then, the oxytocin release was the same, and the marital bliss was similar. Evolution works slowly, so things won’t be much different in that department in the next hundred years. As a form of entertainment for each other, humans have plateaued. And frankly, the plateua isn’t terribly high.
Comedian Chris Rock observed that humans only have two options: single and lonely, or married and bored. There’s a natural limit to how good things can be in your personal life. One person can’t provide the love, comfort, and safety you want while also offering the endless variety and excitement of something new. It’s a logical contradiction.
The Internet, however, just keeps getting better, with no end in sight. Every year brings faster speeds, better screen clarity, more content, more variety, smarter applications, and improved user interfaces. No matter how unusual your hobbies, interests, and fetishes, you can find a growing supply on the Internet. The Internet offers a virtually risk-free experience aimed directly at what gets your heart pumping. It doesn’t matter if you’re into competitive quilting, first person shooter games, or you have a foot fetish; the Internet serves it up. And it keeps getting better.
At the moment, spending time with nice humans is generally better than playing on the Internet, but the gap is closing. Humans aren’t becoming any more enjoyable whereas the Internet is getting more addictive. The crossover for some folks has already arrived. You’ve seen stories of people playing video games until they die of dehydration. Every day you see stories of Internet porn addicts, Facebook addicts, and Pinterest addicts. How much more addictive can the Internet get? Answer: You haven’t seen anything yet.
If you’re like most people, you enjoy seeing images of attractive humans on television and in print ads. We’re wired to appreciate beauty. But we’re also wired to have strong individual preferences. Soon the Internet will know your preferences so well that it will deliver ads featuring the specific types of beauty each person likes most. If you like tall brunettes wearing tee shirts and jeans, that’s what the ads on your screen will feature. The Internet might even predict fetishes and preferences for you that you didn’t know you had. As the Internet learns to anticipate and feed your desires with increasing accuracy, your addiction will deepen. You might even start to love the Internet because it “gets you” and it boosts your oxytocin without ever complaining or having a headache.
Unattractive people will be the first to give up on humanity in favor of the Internet. Generally speaking, unattractive people only have the option of sex with other unattractive people, unless money is involved. For that group, Internet porn is probably already the best option for a sexual thrill. In time, the Internet will evolve and improve until even the people with the best social and sexual options will abandon human contact. I label that phenomenon the Digital Crossover just to make it sound smarter.
The main uncertainty in the Digital Crossover hypothesis is the assumption that society’s standards for human-to-human interactions will remain about the same. I think you might see people adapting to compete with the Internet. Perhaps we’re seeing that already. Some observers believe that young women are more willing to have casual sex because young men are finding Internet porn more convenient than dating. In other words, women are adapting to compete with the Internet. In a hundred years, we might see humans stepping up their game in ways no one predicts. We’ve entered the first period in human history where human-to-human interaction has legitimate competition. Maybe it’s a good thing. Perhaps someday people will be nicer to each other because they know they are competing with the Internet. That could be a positive development.
The other possibility is that people will, on average, continue their trend of getting fatter and more argumentative. In that case, the Digital Crossover is less than ten years away.