“I can’t wait to get my implant.”
Staring at the woman, dumbfounded, I realize she wants to be cut open, perhaps behind the ear, with all of the delicate electronics that enable connectivity laced into the space underneath the skin, tucked up against her cranium like an ivy scaling an old brick wall. She wants to link – to think, and be connected.
She finds this idea irresistible.
The only way I can confront this unexpected lust for the future – rushing to embrace a wave of annihilating change – is with the unvarnished truth. “Where is your mobile right now?”
“Here,” she says, gesturing at her handbag.
“And where is it when you go to sleep at night?”
“On the bedstand, right next to me. It’s my alarm clock.”
“When is your mobile ever more than a meter away from you?”
She considers this. “When I’m in the shower, maybe. That’s about it.”
“Why do you need to get an implant? It’s already effectively part of you. What do you gain by putting it inside of you?” She wrestles with this question for the brief moment it takes her to accept that she has already arrived at her destination. She already has an implant.
Nearly all of us carry our mobiles with us nearly all the time. The vast majority of us sleep next to them, restoring ourselves as they recharge. We are no longer ever alone, not even for a moment.
This loss has gone unnoticed. We grow alarmed at a loss of signal, but seem unable to recognize the absence of a penumbra of quiet which had always been available to us, before hyperconnectivity. We could step away from the world, away from the interruptions and influences of others, away from their thoughts and feelings, and be wholly in ourselves.
We immediately adapted to the continuous presence of others, moving from an empty mansion into a crowded, noisy hostel without missing a beat. We wear the close connectivity of the tribe as comfortably as an old pair of shoes. The oldest parts of us instinctively understand how to be within relations that endure without interruption. We evolved as creatures always within a convenient cooee. Now that call has gone global, restoring everything lost in the flowering of civilization. In hyperconnectivity we have both the anonymity of the mob and the definite identity of the tribe. We may have no particular location, but we are noticed the moment we disappear.
Emergency services have recently seen a sharp uptick in the number of hikers needing a quick recovery from the bush. Hikers stroll into Australia’s substantial parklands, never bothering to file a route plan with the relevant authorities, as it never occurs to them that they could find themselves many kilometers from the nearest cell tower, at the bottom of a ravine, lost, and needing assistance.
Confident in their connectivity, laden with GPS and mobile maps, thinking themselves the equal of any situation, they reach for their mobiles — only to find them useless — and encounter, perhaps for the first time, absolute solitude. The connection gives way to silence, and their confidence collapses. Never having been alone, they confront solitude without any resilience wrought from prior experience.
This same has become true for all of us: the sting of hyperconnectivity. The price we pay for being connected is a certain helplessness in its absence. Every time we reach for the mobile, turning to one another for assistance, we lose some innate capacity to confront the world by ourselves. These losses accumulate until, with half a billion seconds left to go, we could only turn back to our prior, disconnected selves with great difficulty and enormous resistance. We could choose to repent. Instead we accelerate toward this new combination of mutual aid and individual weakness.
Our actions as individuals become the movements of a global culture. At the end of 2008, when, for the first time in history, half of humanity became urban-dwellers, half of humanity owned their own mobile, a synchronicity revealing the alignment of old and new ideas of connectivity. The urban revolution took ten thousand years; the main body of Homo Nexus arrived in less than half a billion seconds, two cultural transformations intersecting in a shared conception of proximity.
The network collapses space to a single point, but, like the city, connectivity has its center, boundary, and areas beyond its reach. As they have always been, cities remain centers of connectivity, with some attention paid to the sprawling suburbs separating them from the vast and sparsely populated regions beyond. Eighty-five percent of the human race lives within range of a mobile signal (more than have access to clean water) but this coverage represents less than sixty percent of the Earth’s surface.
The lure of connectivity has been drawing us together for a hundred centuries. Hyperconnectivity draws a sharp line between the extensive capabilities of Homo Nexus and the rural, agrarian humanity out of signal range. During the next half billion seconds, the boundary will grow more distinct as this new urban form manifests itself in an explosion of capacity. Rural depopulation will accelerate as connectivity becomes irresistible and its absence unimaginable.
We will develop techniques to extend connectivity beyond the urban cores, satellites and longwave subsumed within the preeminent demand for continuous coverage, but the quality of that connection will be inversely proportional to the distance from the hyperconnected center. Some will adapt to life at the margins, but few will embrace that life willingly. We have surrendered our singular selves to the communion of others, and do not mourn the loss.