Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

We should all be mutants

Reading Time: 2 minutes

But it’s not our genes which change. It’s our memes.

I agree with psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book on Creativity that

“ Creativity is the cultural equivalent of the process of genetic changes that result in biological evolution. (…) In cultural evolution (…) a new idea or invention is not automatically passed on to the next generation. (…) Each child has to learn them again from the start. The analogy to genes in the evolution of culture are memes, or units of information that we must learn if culture is to continue.” (Creativity, p. 7)

But recently we assisted to an unexpected mutation. While most of our cultural experiences went through direct contact with the world, through other people or reading a book, today, most of our time is spent in front of a screen. That’s why several authors from Stanford, Pennsylvania, Boston Universities, even Apple and Toyota, coined the term screenome,

“ the record of individual experiences represented as a sequence of screens that people view and interact with over time.”

Every person has a distinct digital signature provided by their screen shifting. Therefore, researchers wanted to understand how these shifting patterns shape daily experience. As the authors argue,

“ Some of the most important information for theorizing about human behavior is the actual stimuli that people view, and the screenome provides that record, as well as a measure of their actions in response to those stimuli.”

Despite its limitations, the future for this idea is promising. Researchers end their article proposing

“ the screenome as a new framework to study human behavior and the ways that technology changes behavior, one that is appropriately matched to the time-scales and ways in which actions, cognitions, emotions, and social interactions emerge and change over time in the digital world.”

If we spend so much time with our screens, I see the advantage of this framework. But it also points to cultural change where the digital affects the physical in new and unexpected ways.

How much the digital experience affects our contact with the real world and the cultural developments emerging from those experiences? We think about the digital age as opening new horizons of being human, but what if we end up losing touch with the ground where we stand, and miss the walking paths embedded in our nature from which creativity flourished.

We became creative in a world without screens. Therefore, it’s going to be a major challenge finding the right balance between keep developing our genome, after the birth of our screenome, which have completely different time-scales.

We may think about the super-powers mutants have in X-Men fictional characters, but I wonder what happens to the learning super-power which we are yet to develop in its fullness after the mutation leading to screenomes.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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