There are more and more European families in which the moment arrives when an insistent relative is no longer told with irritation —“You asked that same thing an hour ago!”—, because it becomes evident that repetitions are the dawn of a process of cognitive deterioration. The aging of the population is a problem with global features —as a recent UN report warned, which projects that the number of people over 65 years of age in the world will double by 2050, reaching a quota of 1,600 million—, but Europe has a particularly high proportion of older people. The continent is now facing urgent crises —from the war in Ukraine to the loss of purchasing power— and strategic challenges —from the green transition to the digital one—, but one cannot lose sight of the necessary effort of societies to adapt to the demographic challenge, which involves areas as broad as migration, health, sustainability of pensions or dependency policies.
Nor should the risks associated with a potential cognitive impairment of another type be neglected, transcending its medical definition, in a sociological interpretation key.
There are no reasons to succumb to pessimism, but there are reasons to pay close attention —and react appropriately— to the effect that the new technological contexts have on the intellectual development of the new generations. How does the change in reading and reflection habits induced by the abundance of stimuli, by the mastery of short-distance messages, by the imposition of a lifestyle that is not prone to concentration influence? How could the affirmation of artificial intelligence technologies that brilliantly solve writing tasks influence, further shrinking the space for an activity of notable importance in the intellectual formation of the leaders of a society? You should look closely. This means not only studying it scientifically, but also that politicians and professionals from key sectors pay maximum attention to the results, in order to take advantage of the potential of new advances and reduce their counterproductive effects by adapting, for example, educational systems.
Likewise, there are no reasons to succumb to pessimism, but there are arguments to pay close attention to the effect that the new contexts of social and media platforms produce on the formation of citizen consciousness and the participation of individuals in the public sphere. Jurgen Habermas devoted an interesting academic article published last year to these issues, among others (Reflections and hypotheses on a further structural transformation of the public political sphere). How does the emergence of spaces —with addictive traits— affect people’s ability to analyze where an enormous mass of uncontrolled information/opinion flows, without professional filters? What kind of editorial responsibilities should be asked of the platforms that, through the content they disseminate, contribute so profoundly to expressing the point of view, and even the form lieof so many people? There is this, and much more.
It will be good, then, to pay attention to the scourge of cognitive impairment of a medical nature that affects the elderly; and also to the risks of cognitive deterioration of another kind that threaten the youngest, and those in the middle. No pessimism, but neither indolence or naivety.