53 – #FRACTURE

Before hyperconnectivity, mass action took the form of marches, demonstrations and the occasional riot. Roman patricians dealt with the mob and learned to control it (panem et circenses). Representing power at both its most unpredictable and susceptible, throw the mob some some bread, some bones, or some bodies, and, satisfied, they disintegrate into constituent communities and relations. Keep the mob soothed with entertainments, and they will not even enter the streets, preferring instead the comforts of the theatre, stadium and home.

None of this is news: ochlocracy is a word the Ancient Greeks coined. We should consider ourselves lucky that the mob can be contained, the beast soothed. If the mob had been a continuous force throughout history, very little of history would remain. Every time sufficient numbers of people had come together, the mob would threaten all. In that world, cities could never persist. The Urban Revolution requires crowd control.

Now the mob hyperconnects, ochlocracy becomes hyperochlocracy, and potent beyond any possibility of control. The hyperempowered need no externalities to deliver bread and circuses; they provide for themselves. The threat of force – the stick following the refused carrot – becomes meaningless where the hyperconnected regularly outthink, outflank and outmaneuver the authorities.

We have entered the era of the reign of a new mob, with new rules. The mobile vulgaris, as the Romans called it, use the mobile to propel themselves into a new commonality. Mob rule is the inevitable outcome of the mobile.

Mobs rarely appear in isolation; mob meets mob in riot and affray: soccer hooligans, co-religionists (against infidels), political parties. Each mob meets its opposite and tries to annihilate the other. Where this can not be contained by the state, the result is civil war.

Hyperochlocracy can not be controlled by any of the techniques the state has long used, and for which the institutions of state power are designed. Neither police nor army can lay a glove on hyperochlocracy. The courts can not make hyperochlocracy subject to justice, nor jails imprison. Everything is perfectly mismatched, as though the hyperconnected exist in a different plane of being, unbound by earthly rules.

Where hyperochlocracies collide, limitation begins anew. First comes the wars between the hyperempowered, such as the continuous-but-nearly-invisible battles between various hacker communities. As successes fed a growing sense its capabilities, Anonymous fractured into several different groups, with competing aims. Group turned against group, each seeking to undermine the efforts of others, even using state power (with leaks of carefully chosen information) to disrupt the relations within competitors.

Unlike ochlocracy, hyperpolitics isn’t a numbers game. Winning the battle has very little to do with the total number of combatants involved on either side and much more to do with the hypermpowerment of individuals and their ability to work coherently and effectively as a hyperempowered group. These traits are entirely orthogonal: any given individual could be great on their own and lousy in a group, or vice versa. Individuals who can bring their hyperempowerment into a group setting and harness the group, amplifying the hyperempowerment of the entire group, will be specifically able to make the most of every encounter. These are the victors of the next billion seconds, and to them will flow the spoils of the hyperconnected era.

This precise set of qualities – hyperempowered individuals who also hyperempower groups – will be strongly selected for. A small group of individuals who share these skills will far outperform a much larger but poorly integrated group. They are able to connect, share and learn from each other with a flexibility and speed that brings  maximum force to their every action. A laser beam next to an unfocused bulb, these groups will slice through every obstacle, vaporize all opposition, and vanquish all opponents not similarly constituted.

Over the next billion seconds some may find that even though they can draw on the learning and experience of billions of others, they work most effectively in smaller units. They will receive the greatest benefit from networks of relations that allow them to use their innate capacity to manage these connections, amplified with a capability keeping them in constant close connection. The elites of the next billion seconds will not necessarily be broadly-based, but may instead be tightly focused, open but highly insular. They will constantly be on the lookout for competitors to co-opt into their own network of relations, or, should that fail, looking for ways to disadvantage those competitors.

None of this tends toward stability; such hyperochlocracies will be pressure cookers, within which every individual will be pushed to the outer limits of performance. The best of these hyperochlocracies will learn to manage the stress they engender, while the worst will simply decohere as rapidly as they form. The rest will exist in a state mid-way between coming together and flying apart, constantly fracturing into competing polities, some fragments regaining potency and hyperempowerment, while others, dysfunctional, die.

In our immediate future we find an echo of our tribal past. The limits of biology which bounded the tribe’s numbers have not been erased. Before hyperconnectivity one hundred and fifty represented the entire map of the known. Today, one hundred and fifty stand in for the billions hyperconnected, as each acts as a filter and focusing agent for the others in immediate connection. In this new tribal formation, each constituent faces outward, connected to the communities of sharing, learning and expertise for which they are prized within the hyperochlocracy, finding, forwarding along everything of importance to those closest. Everything we once did we now do again, for the same reasons, but with far greater scope.

This is the future of the corporation, which began as a dissociated collection of capital, but concludes with the close collaboration of bodies and minds. This is the future of the school, the hospital, the government. This is the future of human organization and collective action. It is no longer bodies on streets holding banners or storming barricades. It is something more internal, more intense, and much more powerful.

45 – #FRAMEWORK

In the beginning, we connect. From the moment we arrive in this world, we seek every opportunity to grow closer to the others we find within it. We never cease connecting, though we bear the scars of all our relations, bound inextricably to every joyous moment. All of this together frames us: instinct, memory, and desire.

Once connected, we begin to share. Again, no order need be given: we share because that is who we are as a species. We use our linguistic aptitude to reveal ourselves, search for common ground, and, once found, explore that ground together. Sharing is the performance of connecting; until we have shared we can not say that we have made contact.

As we share with one another, we find our experience differs. These points of difference become the highly-charged gaps in our knowledge which suddenly begin to buzz and spark as the differential discharges across that gap. We fill ourselves with what others have learned, just as they round out their own understanding. We shock each other, adding to our potential. The scope of our awareness grows, both in breadth and depth.

Once again, this happens by itself. No one commands us to learn. We move into knowledge because it pleases us, suits us, flatters us, and completes us. None of this is hard; it would be far harder to keep it from happening. We connect, share and learn from one another because that’s the survival strategy which, over hundreds of thousands of years, kept us alive in hostile environments. Tethered to one another, grateful for the insight of experiences beyond our own, we connect in order to thrive.

Half a billion seconds ago, connecting, bounded by proximity, took time and effort. People had to present themselves, or we had to present ourselves to them. This ‘tyranny of distance’ pruned our connections back to measured and gradual paths. We evolved in this environment, our brains growing large enough to manage connecting with, sharing, and learning from perhaps a hundred and fifty others – “Dunbar’s Number”.

Now there are five billion of us, directly connected, none of us further apart than the time it takes to type a short string of digits. Even the Urban Revolution did not bring us together like this: individuals on opposite sides of a great city might never meet. We continuously carry with us a connection to the greater part of humanity, and the greater part of humanity, likewise equipped, connects to us. This is not a conurbation; this is a zero-dimension humanity, every point directly connected to every other point, because there is only a single point, pervasive and unified.

Dunbar’s Number has been both amplified and extended beyond any human capacity ever imagined. We moved from hundreds to billions in a single gesture, a quantum leap which in retrospect will appear nearly instantaneous. We enjoy the curious privilege of being part of this transition, the generations experiencing life before, during and after the billion seconds which encompass the entire scope of this transition. A billion seconds is sufficient to change everything.

We are already connected. This amplification and extension has already happened, an event that lies behind us, in our history, a fait accompli. That may be the most shocking feature of the present moment: we think ourselves striding confidently on the ground, only to look down and find ourselves in orbit. How did we get here? We do not remember feeling the blast rocket engines lifting us above the atmosphere. Everything seemed so gradual, we failed to note the gentle but steady tug of acceleration which led inexorably to liftoff, pushing us ever higher.

Yet here we are, far out of our depth, each of us connected, sharing with and learning from five billion others. By itself, this would be among the most remarkable events in human history. But past is prologue. We each now have the learning and experience of five billion others to draw upon. In the mystery of practice, learning becomes knowing. “All knowing is doing, and all doing knowing.”

We now act with the capacity of five billion.

First we connect, then we share, then we learn, and now we do. Each follows ineluctably from the other. Nothing here is anything other than our essential human capacity, a capacity which emerged long before hyperconnectivity, a hyperconnectivity which created the fertile conditions for hyperdistribution and hypermimesis. Before hyperdistribution and hypermimesis laid the foundations for hyperintelligence.

Born equipped for one world, where we leveraged one another’s capacities to improve our own, we live in another, where we leverage everyone’s capacities everywhere, bringing an inconceivable intensity to our every act. Where once we sought the help of others to become fully empowered, we now find ourselves hyperempowered, catapulted so far from any of the familiar settings of possibility we have only barely intuited our newly amplified capabilities.

That is about to change.

In this moment, at the center of the billion seconds of transition between Homo Sapiens and Homo Nexus, we discover that we can do, that doing follows from connecting, sharing and learning. We now realize this is ubiquitously the case, reaching every connected human, everywhere. Not only are we all in this together, what we are, together, is something utterly different. We do not know what we can do. We do not know the limits of the possible, or even if there are limits.

We are not used to thinking like this. We have no frame for something so sudden and so unfamiliar. Inchoate, we fumble along and do amazing things, without any comprehension of the power we now bring to our actions. Innocent as babes, strong as bears, we have the capacity to wreck ourselves with unimagined ease. But we also have the capability to create at a scale previously inconceivable, and sustain with a scope heretofore unobtainable.

With great power comes great responsibility. We need to have a good think about how to use our new powers wisely. And we need to do this right now, for we have already changed beyond recognition.

34 – #DISGUISE

“Let’s hear it for the vague blur!”

In A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick’s dystopian science fiction novel of addiction and redemption, the protagonist – a drug enforcement agent – wears a disguise to prevent anyone from recognizing (and thereby betraying) him. The ‘scramble suit’ creates an everyman projection; in place of a single person, the whole population is represented:

As the computer looped through its banks, it projected every conceivable eye color, hair color, shape and type of nose, formation of teeth, configuration of facial bone structure – the entire shroudlike membrane took on whatever physical characteristics were projected at any nanosecond, then switched to the next…

Looking upon the scramble suit reveals nothing of the person within. Even the voice, transformed in real-time, splices together the words of people of every age and from every culture, resulting in speech full of meaning but lacking any identifiable characteristic.

Overloading ourselves with particulars, we represent nothing. Preference becomes impossible, a meaningless attempt to empty the oceans with a sieve. When everything about us is everything, we become invisible.

Therein lies our escape from the land of the shadow.

Everything that we share in common with others subtracts from our specificity. We connect and share and refine our sharing, to find our interior lives leaking away, expressed and examined and critiqued, but no longer ours. With the loss of privacy comes the loss of uniqueness. We are not defined by what we share, but rather, by what we withhold. It is the things we will not say which make us significant. Hard, secret, and often cruel, these secret stones are the making of us. Creatures of language, we are closest to that which we dare not utter.

If we are to have any of ourselves left in a hyperconnected world, we must learn to keep quiet, drawing lines around our lives, determining which parts we will choose to expose and have bleached to whiteness in the intense light cast by four and a half billion others, deciding which parts we will keep close, telling no one, not even our closest relations, lest these secrets find their way into their sharing and thereby undermine all our efforts.

The simple quiet of the Zen master provides inadequate defense against the mechanisms of the age of omniscience, where actions speak louder than words. Tirelessly watching, our machines faithfully construct their simulacra from a study of our movements; the only silence they could not penetrate would be the absolute stillness of the yogi who holds a single pose for years. Everything else points to a truth we dare not speak, but which speaks for us.

Thoroughly surrounded, we must find another passage to freedom, blinding the machines in a surfeit of light. We need to maintain connections not with a hundred and fifty others, nor even with ten thousand, but with ten million, sending messages to all of them as frequently as our channels allow, so that no pattern can be discerned within the overwhelming flood of connection. Where data can be abstracted, analyzed and applied to the simulacra, there it must be amplified, and shared as broadly as possible, without regard to recipient. Everything we say must be shouted from the rooftops, into as many ears as will hear.

This is our scramble suit: If we say everything to everyone, we say nothing of importance to anyone in particular. It must be this way. We can not simply dissemble, pretend to be other than what we are, because our actions expose our connections. We must be connected to everyone in order to move beyond the reach of the simulacrum. Hyperconnectivity is more than a condition; it is a necessity, stripping away our privacy even as it hands us the tool to restore it.

Each of us, receiving a continuous stream of communication from millions of others, would immediately lose all meaning and all contact, it being impossible to discern a whispered signal within a roar of noise. But within ourselves, in the never-revealed sanctum of the soul (and the soul’s little machines), we keep a list of those whom we choose to attend. These communications are the ones which we interpret and acknowledge. We assign importance, and so construct the screen to prevent the light we generate from dazzling us.

The filter between ourselves and our closest relations lies within ourselves, not out on Facebook or Google or Twitter or in any other system where it becomes fodder for our simulacra. It must lie within, part of our essential self, because who we know is who we are. When a simulacra faithfully models who we know, we have become simulations, programmable and easily controlled.

The joy of sharing is immediate, evident, and completely natural. Amplified across the entire planet sharing also becomes its shadow: hidden and artificial. The way down is the way forward, into an overwhelming and chaotic construction of connectivity which purposely surrenders any extrinsic meaning in order to preserve its occult intent.

Let us then embrace noise and randomness, seeing them not as problematic but as beneficial, the keys to our release. Noise resists analysis, and can not be used to fortify simulacra. Randomness confounds computers, providing no clear picture, only a Rorschach-like exploration of the interiority of the observer, not the observed.

Turning the tables on the observer, we will use our scramble suits as mirrors, turning them to face the shadow machinery of simulacra, which, lacking real data, will feedback upon their own inbuilt hypotheses, producing monstrous projections, a carnival funhouse utterly divorced from reality. What they look for they will find, but it will always be a phantom, the exteriorization of the observer’s own desires and fears, a hall of mirrors filled with hungry ghosts.

We must connect. We are compelled to share. We must no longer discriminate: Everything for everyone, everywhere. If they know us, they will listen; if not, they will thank us for the disguise.

29 – #SCREEN

Checking my email one morning, I found two messages with very nearly the same subject lines: “FYI: Google Begins Testing Its Augmented Reality Glasses” reads one, while the other simply identifies itself as “Google Project Glass”. Both emails concern the search giant’s efforts to develop eyeglasses which project an overlaid data display, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s view in the Terminator series of films. Both pointed to a YouTube video demonstrating how the product might work in the real world. After watching the video, I shared a link on my Twitter feed, so all 28,000 individuals following me now know about ‘Project Glass’. If they hadn’t heard about it already from somewhere else.

As they probably had.

My two friends emailing me reside on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Dan in Boston, Philippe in the Canary Islands. They do not know each other, and it seems unlikely they will ever meet. Yet both of them know me well enough to know that I’d like to read something about Project Glass. Years of sharing have forged the bonds of relationship around shared interests, which include an abiding interest in virtual reality technologies such as Google’s experiment in ‘heads-up-displays’. Neither of them needed to consider whether I’d be interested in such an article; they knew without thinking, because years of experience (23 in Dan’s case, 15 for Philippe) have taught them everything they need to know about me to make them confident enough to hit the ‘send’ button. Both do — within a few hours of one another.

Even if I had no access to the Web, if I didn’t obsessively check my news feeds for anything new and interesting, if I didn’t have nearly the eight thousand people I follow on Twitter feeding me things that interest them, I would have learned about Project Glass, and I would have learned about it within a few hours of it hitting the wires. I am too well connected to too many people who know my interests for something like this to pass me by. The news would enter the network of individuals who know the individuals I know, and would be forwarded along, like the baton in a relay race, making its way from hand to hand until it found its way to me. Which is precisely what happened – though the New York Times accelerated this process somewhat by publishing an article for its millions of readers. But should the Times have been silent, I would have heard through someone, somewhere, who had heard it from someone else, somewhere else, who heard it from someone they knew. And so on.

This is no less true for any one of us. We go out in search of the things that interest us, but it’s just as likely that those things will flow to us through our network of relationships built from shared moments around shared interests. We no longer need to seek out the news – news comes and finds us. Each of us sits at the center point of a vast network of individuals, every one of whom, constantly on the lookout for any new shiny thing to catch their eye, shares a stream of novelty.

If everything every one of the hundred-and-fifty we know well came to our immediate attention, that would be difficult to digest. If we tried to take in everything shared by the ten thousand who know well those we know well, we’d be overwhelmed. And if we tried to encompass everything of note to the million who know well the ten thousand who know well those we know well, we’d immediately immolate, vaporized by too much light.

We are already directly connected. We don’t need better connections. We need better filters, something to stand between us and the impossible intensity of observation that comes from four and a half billion minds sharing whatever tickles their fancy. We need to be able to screen the light, reduce the pressure, ease back, and in the dim find a space for thought.

Fortunately, we have one another. Humans make excellent mirrors, reflecting the lights shone by others, but we can also block this light, or share it very selectively. We hear a lot, but don’t repeat all of it all at once to any one person. We select and choose, directed by the memories of the relationships that have grown up over shared moments of sharing. Each shared moment has the potential to reinforce or weaken the bond of relationship, so we become very careful with our strongest relationships, working to keep them strong by refreshing them constantly with the best we can find. Everything not immediately relevant to that relationship is ignored, or saved for a time when it might prove relevant.

We rely on our relationships to provide us with everything they believe we might need to know. Those closest to us will forward something along because it has made its way past the filter they use to keep that relationship strong. We do the same, sharing ourselves judiciously in the quest to keep ourselves well-informed.

This parallel ‘human network’ has grown up alongside the broadcast and print media, uses them, but would experience surprisingly little disruption if every television channel went dark and every printing press stopped. We are the network now, and everything we need to know finds its way to us, precisely because we express our interest in it. Nothing more is required, no subscriptions or sophisticated sharing technologies. These accelerate the human network, and amplify it, but even if all the sharing tools we know and love simply vanished, our human network of sharing and filtering would prove sufficient for all of us to have as much awareness as desired of anything that we consider salient.

27 – #SPHERE

Once we connect, we begin to share. No one has to tell us to share ourselves: this is who we are. As we share with others, and they share with us, we learn more about them. We share something important to us, and they respond. Where that sharing triggers a memory, hope, or resonance, they respond positively, sharing something of their own experience with us, and that moment is reinforced. Where our sharing is meaningless – or worse, upsetting – we receive little encouragement, even silence. We remember this as well.

Each of these sharing moments become the shape of our relationships. Moments become memories, and eventually these memories acquire a life of their own, a rendering of the relationship into a miniature version of someone whom you’ve shared with and who has shared with you. This model grows more complete as these shared moments of sharing accumulate. From our point of view at the center of our personal universe, these shared moments compose that person – or at least all of that person we can ever know.

Everyone you know well, you know well precisely because of the accumulation of those sharing moments. Sharing is how we come to know one another. Our infant minds fill themselves up with mom and dad (mostly mom). Only gradually do we learn how to sort all of those other people out. Our circles of connections grow wider as our minds find the room to house a battalion of individuals. Without memory of the shared moments of sharing, all human contact would exist within an eternal present, a Memento-like state where no one could ever matter. Without memory, there is no relationship, and without sharing, there is no memory.

Each of our relationships grows from sharing, conforming to the boundaries established by that sharing, and tends to reinforce that we already know. Like shares with like. If we want to talk about the latest movies, we know whom to turn to. If we want to gripe about our employer, we know who will provide a sympathetic ear. And if we want to speculate about our own possibilities, we know who’s willing to join us on our flights of fancy. The ‘echo chamber’ of human culture — which recirculates the same truisms endlessly between like-minded individuals — did not begin with the Internet; it is as old as speech. We need to have our beliefs confirmed, fears soothed and secrets held. We focus upon the relationships which provide these.

We grow from knowing nothing about one another to knowing everything needed to breathe life into a simulacrum, a mind’s-eye version. We know a handful of people exceptionally well, sharing with them continuously. We know a larger number reasonably well, certainly enough to find some excuse to share something with them as desire or opportunity presents. We know enough people well enough to share something in common with them. These three levels of intimacy emerged from the familial and tribal bonds of our common heritage. We have always needed to share ourselves with those in the tribe: sharing means survival.

Our ability to share meaningfully defines the boundaries of the tribe, and limits it. Relationships nourish and tax in equal amounts. Time and attention and dedication keep our relationships fresh. Friends ‘drift apart’ when they forget to feed their relationship, eventually becoming estranged. We all know the odd feeling of meeting someone we once knew well, but now hardly know. The memory of relationship remains, like dried bones. This happens and needs to happen because we can not feed every relationship equally. Some people enter our lives to stay, some only drift through. We retain something as they depart, but most gets lost as we plow over the ground of that relationship to make room for another. We have limits, and can only sow our minds with so many simultaneous relations.

Estimates vary, but something between one hundred and fifty (the so-called ‘Dunbar Number’) and two hundred and fifty seems to be the upper limit on the number of active and well-fed relationships we can manage. This conforms to the size of tribal groupings known from the study of paleoanthropology and prehistory, as well as examinations of the hunter-gatherer cultures still with us today in Amazonia and New Guinea. Tribes make manifest the limits of memory and relation, never growing beyond the natural confines of our ability to hold everyone within our heads.

Ten thousand years away from the tribes, we carry these same boundaries in our modern minds, but whereas once everyone within a tribe held the same set of individuals in their heads, no one today has precisely the same array of relations. Even husbands and wives, in a lifetime together, maintain separate social spheres. We overlap and intersect, but instead of a single unit of blood and tribe, we span multitudes. Each of us knows one hundred and fifty others well, and each of those know one hundred and fifty well. Even with a fair bit of overlap, you and the people you know well know more than ten thousand people well. Those ten thousand know a million well. The million know a hundred million. That hundred million know everyone. This ‘six degrees of separation’ emerges from the relations of sharing and memory which once kept our horizons narrowly focused on the tribe, but which now (with a little mixing and connecting) spans the species.

Every one of us, everywhere, resides in the embrace of this ‘human network’ of relations built from shared moments of sharing. This network presents us the opportunity to share our experiences, or learn from the experiences of others. Above the broad physical network of communications – the wires and waves of Internet and mobile – an invisible but pervasive, highly mediated, but entirely human network reinforces our relationships with every act of sharing. The sphere of our relations has grown to encompass the whole world.