6 – #REVELATION

Starting in 1995, this billion seconds began with an invitation to connect – to the Internet, to the Web, to one another.  We leaped at the opportunity.  To be connected is to be in the know, and that has always been powerfully alluring.  “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.”  We want to know more in order to be able to do more.

Knowing and doing are not one-shot affairs.  The practice of what we have learned changes us, and changes everyone with whom we share that practice.  Our learning changes our practice, and our practice changes our learning.   When we connect, learning from and practicing before six billion others, every moment of learning and every act of practice become hyper-potent.  Practice in a hyperconnected era is both performative (there is an audience for everything: i.e., Rule 34) and an opportunity for collaboration and critique.  To do, connected, is to invite others to participate.

In collaboration, learning and practice become a continuous act, accelerating to the limits of the connected community to absorb novelty.  We retain enormous cognitive flexibility throughout our lifetimes, but learning always involves some degree of discomfort.  Knowing hurts, even if that pain finds an effective balm in the joy of discovery.

Some communities turn within, reinforcing the known, creating a boundary between the familiar and the unwanted.  Connection does not necessarily lead to openness.  Reinforced along internal lines of communication, these become echo chambers of the well-known, their capacity for doing curtailed by their self-limited scope of participation.

Such communities have always existed, emerging from our most ancient tribal past, connected by conceptions and culture and blood, bound together so closely they can admit nothing foreign.  This worked effectively for at least a hundred thousand years; eventually, others learned how to share more openly – perhaps not as promiscuously as we are apt to do today, but on a scale which had thus far eluded us.  This transition, occurring perhaps ten thousand years ago, took physical form in the first cities of Jericho and Çatalhöyük.  Cities are networks, their alleys and streets no different in function from the fibre optic connections bearing our own connectivity.

With more people in connection leading to more learning and more practice, the open network of cities produced a broader set of capabilities.  Unable to compete with these newly networked polities, the closed networks of human antiquity retreated to the fringes of deep forest and high arctic.  Urbanization, more than anything else, represents the first triumph of the human network.

The capacity gap that allowed urban man to overwhelm his tribal brothers is being recapitulated in the transition into hyperconnectivity.  “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The network as copying machine has ended any possibility of censorship: the only way to prevent information from being endlessly reproduced is by withholding it completely.  Limited releases inevitably culminate in moments of hyperdistribution, when something censored becomes ubiquitously available.

We find ourselves thrust headlong into a culture of omniscience, where everything is known simply because it has become impossible to keep anything hidden from view.  In a hyperconnected world, something may be obscure, but it is never unknown: someone among the six billion connected humans has the answer to every question – even if the answer is that the question can not be answered.  Lack of transparency no longer functions as a barrier to knowing.

The immediate consequence of this culture of omniscience is hyperochlocracy, a new form of mob rule, born from a breadth and depth of situational awareness that comes as a consequence of being interested in something.  If, for example, should you be incensed by the actions of an individual you see as threatening your network, you might seek out that individual’s personal details – street address, email, phone and fax numbers, all the points of contact – then post that information online, informing anyone who might also find that information equally interesting.  In short order, that individual, targeted and deluged in communication, would be forced to withdraw from their networks.

Corporate sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) found themselves targeted by a smartphone application that reads Universal Product Code bar codes, checks them against a database, and reports whether the company supports SOPA.  Individuals can now make buying decisions in support of a boycott without foreknowledge, translating the information reproduced by the network into a public performance of political economy.  Our economic lives, thus subordinated to the network, demonstrate the exteriorized power of hyperconnectivity.

Now that this instant-boycott tool exists, every interested activist will adopt it for their own ends.   The tool has been seen by all and understood; the public, hyperconnected performance of any tool produces copies and sequelae.  Tools evolve through use and replication into other tools; tools breed with tools, multiplying their effectiveness.  As the increase in capacity provided by them becomes taken for granted, tools become indispensable to knowing and doing.

The chasm between the culture of hyperconnectivity, and the ‘slow culture’ which precedes it, widens as tools to amplify the value of hyperconnectivity proliferate.  We can not know what we know, and do what we do, without consequence.  “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Our tools belong to the hyperconnected world.  Our institutions do not.  That is the central challenge of the present moment, a divide across our civilization and a rupture within ourselves.  We left our tribes for the cities, and now we leave the cities for the hive.  As everything incompatible with hyperconnectivity loses its power to shape our culture, the assumptions of ten thousand years of civilization are falling away.  The choice is made.  We have embraced our hyperconnected selves.

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