We humans, at our core, are basic animals. We use our senses and intelligence to navigate the environment, acting to protect the interests of ourselves and those connected to us, such as family and friends. As our species has developed, we've progressed in intelligence, shedding our evolutionary descendants to accomplish feats of technological wonder. And yet, this has come with unfortunate side effects, one of which is a disease that plagues us with its insidious nature, the condition of addiction.
When discussing this topic, it is often in the context of substance abuse, such as with caffeine, cocaine, and codeine. Additionally, we know there are behavioral addictions like with gambling, sex, and social media. Considering addiction from a behavioral standpoint opens us up to new forms of the disease that emerge in response to how we use technology. With future advancements digging deeper into our brains, we must stand on high alert to the potential dangers they may cause, the addictions they will create.
As such, I thought it would be interesting to visit an addiction clinic in the future and see what they are dealing with. Ah, the group session is just beginning…
(TW: Some of the stories below deal with difficult topics in the context of addiction, including things like drunk driving, death, and family abandonment.)
You enter a cold, hard room. Sitting in a circle is a group of people covering the entire canvas of human diversity: all the colors, sizes, shapes, and identities, and yet together, they share a longing, a longing for sanity.
Your brow is sweating, you fidget in your seat and squirm as the group leader welcomes everyone to this week's session. Some people nod, others have their heads in their hands, and a few smile as if the warmth of a future sun is shining down on them.
You don't want to talk today. You don't have to. You take a sip of the water and try to calm your nerves. The pain emanating from each individual is too much to bear, so you lean into yourself, disassociate, hear the words in the wind from a distanced vantage.
The first person begins to speak…
His family was tragically killed in a drunk driving incident. Depression. Anger. His arm was mangled and twisted in the accident, requiring an amputation, replaced by a robotic arm connected to a brain chip. No family, no arm, he wandered aimlessly around the city, began to push into circumstances at the edge of danger, usually fighting drunks in bars, giving the new metal arm a chance to show him what it was made of. Feeling energized by the violence, he sought underground medical procedures, advanced upgrades to his biological foundation. First, he replaced his other arm. Then the legs. Then he changed out organs one by one. At this point, the fuel was a desire to protect his dead family, harden himself in materials that could withstand the impact of a crash. After upgrading his body and mind, he found the perpetrator of his family's death.
Now he’ll be in prison for the rest of his life.
She grew up wanting to change the world, to bring people together. But as happens in the rat race of life, she got caught up in her own devices. Studying, researching, discovering new ways to manipulate biology, physics, chemistry, all of science. She won awards. Saved lives. Despite her greatness, she never accepted success. Then on a cold summer night, she cracked the code to reality.
The simulation was simple at first, but then she introduced new elements, new codes, new instructions. Life began to form. Evolve. Now, every minute of every day is spent in service of their study. Generations sped into moments.
They call her God.
They are the most potent force in the entire metaverse. All bow down to the glory of their avatar, the highest praise, millions of adoring fans begging to be part of one of their journeys, whether it be to a planet in the virtual galaxy or an adventure to the far side of a fantastical land. They've broken every record, gained every perk, found every relic. To reach this height, they had to sacrifice the physical. Tubes feed them and remove their waste. Their home is automated; visitors are not allowed. The VR goggles remain on, always on; the haptic suit is a glove they sleep in.
When their sister needed a place to crash, they were too busy to respond to the plea for help. When their grandfather got sick and eventually passed, they were not there to say goodbye. Their old friends wonder when they'll snap out of it.
If they ever do.
The crew lives for the likes. Thousands a minute. Millions an hour. The comments are fans in a concert screaming their names. The love is magnificent. But they wanted more. They moved in together. They merged their lifestyles. Did everything together. All on video. On camera. For the masses. Engagement rose. Then stagnated. They needed more. They turned themselves over to the fans. What should we eat for breakfast? What should we do this afternoon? What city should we live in? How far should we run? What clothes should we wear? Who should we marry? As fans control their lives, the engagement feeds their soul.
Or whatever was left of it.
The coded message was simple to solve. The next one was more complex. As was the next. He didn't mind the puzzles; they were fun, kept his mind sharp. The dull days in the office, the humdrum of tap tap tap on the keyboards, he couldn't take it anymore, so the riddles, despite the strain on his mind, did more to fulfill him than anything else. He was tired. Family was a constant pressure. When the next clue sent him across the globe, he lied and said he had a business trip. Each clue brought him deeper into the pits of an answer to his problems, to the world's problems; if he solved it. After ten years, he said he felt the end was near—just one more clue.
And then he would come home.
The group leader looks in your direction and calls your name…
These stories are an addition to our Perspectives series. Check out the previous one here. If this essay was shared with you, consider subscribing to our bi-weekly newsletter.
Photo by Sebastiaan Stam