Previous social trends
From the earliest recorded human history, we can gather some ideas of how society functioned and social trends. Many ideas from this time were restricted to the region it is from and took a long time to spread across other cultures. New ideas or discoveries were little-known to most people. People in power were also allowed to do pretty much what they wanted with very weak resistance.
This sort of society was governed by superstition, religious dogma and a small number of relatively powerful people. The only ideas to become widespread were often religious concepts spread through violent means and word of mouth. There were a few shining examples of progress, such as the cities of Athens, Alexandria and Rome (there are other examples unknown to me that would probably be better in this case, these are only the most well-known), however, these were rare in the context of the time.
Gradually through long-lasting empires ideas were able to spread, and so too were people. For the first time, people would interact with people of other ethnicities and experience other cultures. Through imperialism, there was a trend of more and more exposure. As technology was advanced so too did the ease to travel. Inventions like roads, carts and eventually trains, cars and planes people could travel to almost any populated area.
This trend of decreased isolationism got its most recent boost with the rise of the internet. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype enabled instant communication with anyone on the platform and ideas could spread faster than ever.
Current social trends
What are the current social trends?
Currently, society seems to be becoming more and more open to certain groups. One example is women’s rights, where women in Western countries generally have equal rights to men in all key aspects, such as suffrage, job opportunity and ownership rights. This trend is also true of poorer civilians, LGBTQ minorities, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities (and some other groups). These groups are also becoming more accepted by society, especially in urban areas.
Unfortunately, this is not true of all countries, with the worst countries for minority rights and acceptance being those with high percentages of fundamentalist religious populations, such as in the Middle East and Saharan Africa, and communist/ex-communist countries like Russia. Rankings of the worst countries for gender equality and LGBTQ rights implies that Islamic countries are the worst with correlations between lack of education and lack of acceptance.
This used to be true of most Western countries, which were predominantly Christian, until technological advancements, urbanisation and better education caused more acceptance and legal equality. There is also a trend of declining religiosity in the West, with some UK polls suggesting that under half of the population identifies as Christian.
Availability of information
As we are now, information can spread very quickly. Social media has enabled anyone to talk to anyone within seconds. This trend is increasing as more and more people use social media and tech corporations think of even more ways to make information accessible. Such things as hashtags, trending tabs and discover pages mean that even ideas you would not have otherwise known about can reach you. However, as is true of practically all things, there are some very noticeable imperfections.
Ease for misinformation
As we have found out, these social platforms are currently very easy to be gamed. One fresh case of this is Facebook. Recently, Facebook suffered the biggest ever single day loss when it was exposed for selling data to political research firm Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has also gotten into trouble for promoting fake news on its news feed, causing Facebook’s value to tumble (value = share price * the number of shares).
This scandal is infamous for interfering with democracy and goes against the political trends of society. This remains a key problem with the current information outlets that can slow down the trends currently being observed.
Another factor in these social trends is urbanisation. With more than 50% of the population living in an urban environment, people now are frequently exposed to other cultures and ideas. This has repeatedly been shown to correlate with acceptance and integration and reduce the effect of tribalism.
Likely future social trends
As we have shown in our customisation post, digital immortality would bring many new forms of existence. Ideas like black, white and mixed would become meaningless. The concept of a woman vs man would fade away with this technology and people would be judged on their merits instead of inherited traits. Sexuality could theoretically be altered and fulfilled by simply thinking about it.
Indeed, there is no reason why someone’s whole mindset could not be changed like a simple toggle. This does sound very exploitable if a breach of the central database occurred, meaning well-defined regulations and a very transparent organisation should have exclusive access. Security concerns aside, this possibility, if it is indeed possible, could allow for true empathy, another key enabler of acceptance. Of course, freedom of speech and freedom of thought fall into question here and ‘controversial’ ideas shouldn’t simply be deleted from a person. However if people who had committed crimes were allowed to simply change their way of thinking this could reduce crime rates. This definitely blurs the line between basic freedom and slavery-like dictatorship so might end up being banned except with permission from a qualified individual or team,
Barring any extremist religious takeover or extinction event, I think that people would finally fully embrace all inherent traits of a person, potentially even to the point where people are no longer characterised as man, woman, gay, straight, black, white or foreign, native. Eventually, people would realise that this tribalism does not help the progression of the human species, wellbeing or knowledge and would ultimately ditch it for a universal identity as cognitive beings with very personal yet common goals and desires.
Very easy fact-checking
With digital immortality, fake news could rapidly be debunked. This matters as it would reduce decisions based upon falsehoods, helping to align public decisions with true events. Also, in the case of journalist publications, it would enable background read-ups on the author, publication, sources and similar articles within a fairly short time span. This could reduce ignorance of a writer’s or publication’s bias and help create a norm of intelligent and informed societies. These societies would likely incline towards facts and patterns and less likely to exclude others over some petty difference or another.
Decline of religion
One major selling point for uploading one’s brain to digital form is the benefit of immortality. This is in many ways contrary to the whole premise of religion. The very notion of endless happiness can relatively easily be replicated with simple software. Also, with digital immortality, you would experience the progression of society and technology with vastly more options and personalised experiences. In comparison, the promise of eternity in one unchanging place seems limited in comparison. For those who do remain religious, one could expect that they would choose the option of natural death.
On the other side, even assuming a conservative estimate of 1% conversion to digital per generation, after around 70 generations there would be a majority of people with digital immortality. After 230 generations there would be 90% digital immortality and after about 460 generations those with digital immortality would represent over 99% of the population. With one group never dying and the other choosing to die, it seems clear that those with digital immortality would experience the decline of religion to the point of insignificance, including many other social trends, even those not yet conceived.