The Symbiont Scenario: Futurist John Smart on the Mental Health Benefits of Remote Peer Networks

October 16 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Relationships   Year: General   Rating: 2

Systems theorist, futurist and Acceleration Studies Foundation Executive Director John Smart presents a near-term scenario in which new comm technologies enable remote peer networks to effectively bond with and support mental patients, assisting in socialization and treatment from a safe distance.

Such “Symbiont Networks”, as Smart calls them, could be highly effective drivers of mental health, among other things, as they augment standard treatment that can consist of heavy medication and little face time for certain individuals.

Here’s a short clip from my recent interview with John in which he describes a Symbiont Scenario:

Detractors of the Symbiont Scenario will likely critique the “dehumanizing” aspects of distance communication and also point their fingers at unintended consequences. But, though I agree it’s highly probable that whole new classes of disorders (like autism, ADHD, etc) will continue to emerge as we co-evolve with the changing environment, I also fundamentally believe that because there’s no such thing as standing still in an environment of accelerating change it is incumbent upon us to use new technologies to help people, and our system, to self-actualize better.

Clearly, reducing isolation through technology will benefit many individuals who presently tend to “fall through the cracks”. So I find it very plausible and am hopeful that Symbiont Networks will emerge as powerful tools in the ongoing battle to assist people, including those with debilitating mental disorders, in their attempt to ascend the hierarchy of needs.

From a macro-perspective, it seems we as a species consistently bootstrap our ability to survive, thrive and perhaps generate happiness. According to Smart’s own Third Law of Technology, “The first generation of any technology is often dehumanizing. The second generation is generally ambivalent to humanity. The third generation, with luck, becomes net humanizing.” So, when considering the comm technology that we are developing at such a rapid rate, it is reasonable to think that it will ultimately help facilitate human goals and desires more than it hurts.

In that context, the emergence of Symbiont Networks should represent a big step forward in the evolution of collective human behavior, abilities and actualization.

Image credit: J. Finkelstein

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