Contemplating Immortal Life

I may be worrying needlessly. Chances are, the immortals' problems will not be that different from ours. For example, pressure on traditional families and kinship structures will certainly continue following immortalization. Technology, however, will be as much the parent of immortals as mortal parents. But we too have been replacing the family with some more nebulous institution ever since in vitro fertilization and surrogacy were invented. As Lori Andrews, the dean of lawyers specializing in the birth industry, points out, "In the Clone Age, it would be possible for a child to have five parents: a sperm donor, egg donor, surrogate mother, and the couple who intended to raise the child."16

In the case of surrogacy, parental assignment is usually awarded to those who pay for the procedure.17 If the same policy applies to immortalized people, parenthood may be decided by the highest bidder. The State, which will inevitably pick up a share of the tab, might also demand a role in parenting or, at least, in assigning parenthood. Paying this piper, however, may utterly destroy anything presently resembling family.

No doubt other answers will be offered, but immortal children will outlive their parents and the problems of immortality will move on to the kinds of adjustments immortals will have to make to each other. Will this world of the immortals be recognizable to extant mortals? I have only a faint idea of just how different it will be and can only offer conjectures about what mortals, like ourselves, will learn from this new world—about ourselves and about immortals.

Probably, in much the same way that children have adjusted to talking toys and reasoning computers, immortal human beings will adjust to their situation and find new and novel ways to cope with their reality. These ways may, however, be incomprehensible to mortals, at least at first. As Sherry Turkle has reported about "postmodern" children,

Faced with ever-more-complex computational objects, children are now in the position of theoretical bricoleurs, or tinkerers, "making do" with whatever materials are at hand, "making do" with whatever theory can fit a prevailing circumstance. They cycle through evolution and psychology and resurface ideas about motion in terms of communication of bits.18

In contrast

When today's adults "cycle through" different theories, they are uncomfortable. Such movement does not correspond to the unitary visions they were brought up to expect. But children have learned a different lesson from their cyborg objects.19

Borrowing from Donna Haraway, Turkle concludes

In this sense, today's cyborg [substitute immortal] children, growing up into irony, are becoming adept at holding incompatible things together. They are cycling through the cy-dough-plasm into fluid and emergent conceptions of self and life.20

My guess is that the immortals will make an adjustment to immortal life, while mortals will find it too cyborgian for comfort.

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