42 – #MEDIC

The objection always comes, always sounding the same notes of incredulity and fear. “But”, it always begins, “you can’t honestly believe this. Things don’t really work this way.”

Always framed around expertise, this objection asserts the primacy of the individual, their training and experience inherently superior to anything that might be derived from hyperconnected, hyperdistributed hyperintelligence. Their learning, over years, at the feet of masters, must always trump anything learned just about anywhere else from anyone else.

They refute the new, arguing for the tradition of education, and the transmission of mysteries: these count, but nothing else. New mechanisms of knowledge formation must be inherently suspect because they lie beyond the time-honored systems which have always fostered expertise. They have no history, no substance. Insubstantial, these new practices are meaningless, even dangerous.

For the coup de gras, they conjure an image of a surgeon, poised over an anaesthetized body, and ask the question: “Medical school… or Wikipedia?”

We are not used to the discontinuous growth in empowerment wrought by hyperintelligence. We can not imagine ourselves suddenly transformed and equipped with new capabilities. Conditioned by the way things have always worked, we expect everything to remain the same even after everything has changed completely.

Confronted by this ridiculous demand to cleave to the old and trusted over the new and raw, we seek the safety of the known, even as it exposes itself not in wisdom, but rather, its opposite.

Doctors become less accurate over the course of their careers, yet ever more sure of their diagnoses. Their guesses concretize into opinions and ossify into facts, tight and tidy, personal and specific. No one is perfect, but we have the knack of reinforcing our imperfections, buttressing our ignorance with willful stupidity.

Doctors are by no means singular or exceptional; we all do this, and we all do this all the time. We all think we know more than we actually do, and we act on that knowledge. As Twain once wrote, ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble — it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so!’

By ourselves, we know less than we believe. Hyperconnected, we know more than we realize, far more than we give ourselves credit for. One mind can wallow in ignorance undisturbed, but a group of minds will see beyond the mind-forg’d manacles that blind anyone one of them.

We all now bring all of us into every situation, every decision. Never alone, we can refer back to what others have written, or in the moment ask what others think. We can take this advice or ignore it, as suits the situation and our temperament, but we will never again be free from it. These voices in our heads seek to help us into more perfect action.

If we are not perfect in the application of hyperintelligence, we are continuously improving. Hyperintelligence focuses upon itself, seeking to improve itself. As we grow in hyperintelligence, we become more refined both in our technique and application of hyperintelligence. It becomes a fundamental feature of our being, an ontological leap across the abyss of unknowing. In mid-air, we feel the propulsion that will land us safely on the other side, but we also sense much we once believed solid suddenly slip away, dropping into the nameless depths below.

Respect for authority; respect for tradition; respect for those who command respect. All of this has become increasingly provisional, all of it less and less necessary to the smooth functioning of culture, as the systems which preserved and protected us obsolesce before rising hyperintelligence. The auteur, supplanted by the hyperconnected amateur, struggles to find footing in an environment which privileges the connected over the singular.

“Medical school… or Wikipedia?” Increasingly, the answer will be ‘Wikipedia’, as we learn how to construct systems which take the best of what it is known and bring it into focus for those who have the greatest need to know it. Doctors will not disappear – nor any other profession – but their specifics now grow diffuse. They will not be able to function by themselves, any more than any of us can. The doctor is a cloud of connections: to peers, patients, and knowledge. This is already true, this has always been true, and is now growing more true.

We want the surgeon who can not simply operate from prejudice, but must, at every moment, sharpen themselves against the whetstone of hyperintelligence. We want the close collaboration wrought by hyperconnectivity to act both as correction and critique, showing us the way into a continuous improvement of our capabilities. We want this, we need this, and we now have this.

But it is painful. No one likes to be reminded of their ignorance, all of the blocks which we fill with assumptions that mirror our unspoken and unconscious beliefs. We would rather retreat into a fantasy reinforced through selectivity, cutting off more and more of the obvious truth where it lies at variance with our desire. We would be islands, self-sufficient and secure, ignorant of the sea which touches all. But the ocean rises, and all lands soon will disappear beneath the waves.

In that sudden continuous sea, expertise supplants profession, and knowledge brought to hand carries greater weight than anything laboriously learned, simply because the collection of billions of minds immediately outweighs any specific genius of any single person. Genius drowns beneath the rising tide of hyperconnectivity, unless that gift, shared with others, becomes part of the broadly known. It has always been like this, but it has never been this clear.

People will be known for knowing what they know. Masters will continue. It is the process of mastery that has changed beyond all recognition. The medical school is Wikipedia, and all of us as well, connected, sharing and learning, all looking on, as the scalpel goes in.

41 – #MOB

Certain transgressions carry a surprisingly high price.

After the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team lost the 2011 Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins, normally genial Canadians turned to riot and affray, trashing whole blocks of downtown Vancouver. As this happened during the Age of Omniscience, the whole event, captured on live television cameras, CCTV and mobiles, soon found itself under the careful review of everyone interested in this most un-Canadian behaviour.

As typical for any riot – especially a riot triggered by sport – the vast majority of the rioters were young men. Angered, fueled by a mix of testosterone and alcohol, they smashed the city, trashed police cars, wrecking everything in their path.

It was all recorded.

In the days following, as Vancouverites assessed the damage, cleaning their city while asking themselves ‘how this could have happened?’, video of particular events reached hyperdistribution: Do you know who this is, smashing that plate glass window? Who might be setting that police car alight?

The smarter rioters, in balaclavas and hoodies, could not be identified – immediately. But a logo on a distinctive tee shirt could give it all way. And some, swept up in the moment, neglected to disguise themselves, committing their crimes while the whole world watched. Such as Nathan Kotylak.

Nathan Kotylak you’ve been judged by Captain Vancouver in violation of all that was a promising career as a water polo star. When I googled his name, Nathan was a star with a future. In one fell swoop he destroyed that. I’ve seen Nathan’s phone number posted online and realised that even amongst your friend’s they are outing you for being a punk.

The blog publicshamingeternus shared Nathan’s image – as he tried to turn a Vancouver police car into a Molotov Cocktail – with tens of thousands of Vancouverites each looking for faces in the crowd, every one intent on trying to disaggregate the mob into individual actors, who could be held responsible for their activities. As each face resolved into focus, each was copied, shared, analyzed, and shared some more. One by one, these faces became names: the recognition of a friend or son or brother shocked a community which prided itself on its orderliness.

Kotylak, a rising sports star at his high school, found his name, address and home phone number distributed widely across Vancouver. Within hours, he and his family fled their home, fearing reprisals. The mob – hyperconnected and hyperdistributing everything they found abhorrent – closed in on a range of rioters, just as they did after the London riots in August 2011: identifying, naming and shaming – even threatening.

Hyperconnected, the power of the mob runs through our every act. At every moment we can invoke thousands or millions of others to stand beside us, now or in the nearly present, bearing witness or striking out as need and opportunity allow.

Yet the mob is not a pet on a leash, nor some force, like mains power, available upon demand. The mob has a mind of its own, far greater than any of ours, and if not exactly more intelligent, clearly separate from us: distant, gnomic, and unknowable. We can be part of the mob without knowing it, just as the mob has no sense of itself, no ego or center, no control or authority, just power and action. The mob houses no homunculus, hidden away, directing its activities.

Although centerless, the mob has a curious and quite sentimental emotional sensitivity. The mob hates cruelty to animals. When CCTV footage of Mary Bale dropping a cat into a dumpster (leaving the bin covered and the animal trapped) surfaced, the reaction from an outraged hyperconnected mob – which notably has an affinity for felines – forced Bale into police protection.

Where an incident contains an incitement, a mob will accrete around that incitement, sharing it amongst themselves, asking themselves what should be done to avenge this wrong. Each part of the mob offers up a suggestion of action, but only a few of these suggestions contain within themselves the excitement that carries them beyond a few and out to the whole. These may be the best and the wisest, or the ugliest and meanest – depending on the incitement. The buzz increases, and as the mob closes on a decision, knowing becomes doing.

This happens everywhere now; on a Tokyo subway and a Beijing Street and a Seoul metro station and a Vancouver riot scene. We are everywhere involved, directly, no longer merely watching but acting and reacting, whether present or distant, both now and later.

Call it the Age of Omnipotence.

We possess omnipotence not as individuals, but only in hyperconnectivity, bound to one another, and therefore unknowable, even unto ourselves. We become a greater thing in much the same way our cells become the greater organism that is us: No nerve cell knows of me, even if it is essential to my experience of myself. Power beyond knowing has literally become fact. We can not reach to it, we can not touch it, we can not even experience it except in the vague sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves, a single force operating with a hidden unity behind obvious multiplicity.

Yet it is not invisble, this hyperochlocracy, and it has us in its firm grip. Could we truly avoid being swept up in a hyperconnected mob, when all our relations have been swept up before us? Wouldn’t we simply see it as the perfectly reasonable course of action? We do not surrender our reason to hyperochlocracy; instead, it seduces us, tapping our weaknesses, our fears, our pretense and desire, making puppets of us, treating us like an army of hungry ghosts.

This is the new face of power, the new force which all other powers, however constituted, must now reckon with. It is not simple, nor singular, nor permanent, nor familiar. But it is of us, and we are not alien to it. Its ends are human ends, and though sentimental, it lacks pity: because none of us can be as cruel as all of us.

 

38 – #MASTERY

Pity poor David Cecil, totally unprepared.

The unemployed truck driver, with nothing to fill his days, decided on a course of self-improvement. Clear on what interested him, he sought out others who shared his interests, connecting with them, then listened to everything they could teach him. Completely engaged, he spent up to twenty hours a day online, reading and researching and engaging those ahead of his own understanding, learning everything they offered up. An excellent student, Cecil soon felt qualified enough to apply his autodidactic efforts. That’s when the trouble began.

If Cecil had studied ‘bathtub biology’, learning how to catalyze the Polymerase Chain Reaction in order to do DNA amplification, he might have bred himself a superbug, a strain of E. coli capable of giving the whole planet a fatal tummy ache. If he’d briefed himself on nuclear engineering, he might have constructed a homemade particle accelerator, bombarded atoms, and perhaps created a contamination threat affecting his entire neighborhood. Instead, Cecil studied computer security, coming into an understanding of the techniques used to protect and secure networks, then used these skills to break into, subvert, and control the systems for a small Internet Service Provider.

It all ended badly: the ISP quickly detected his intrusion – Cecil didn’t know enough about how to cover his tracks – then shunted him off to systems designed as ‘honeypots’, which look inviting and potentially powerful, but which simply trap the attacker in a sticky dead end. After compiling a sufficiently large body of evidence, the police broke down Cecil’s door one morning, arresting him and impounding all of his computers. The neighbors seemed surprised; an unemployed truck driver with no particularly remarkable talents suddenly become an ‘evil’ hacker? It strained credulity.

Welcome to the age of connected intelligence.

Now that everything known is shared broadly and freely, now that everyone who cares about any given body of knowledge maintains a constant relation to it and to everyone else who cares about that knowledge, the entire world is composed of a continuously multiplying set of knowledge amplifiers. Any of us can place ourselves within one – or fall in, almost accidentally – simply by engaging. By being present, connecting and sharing, we shed our ignorance and quickly acquire a degree of mastery. We can know nothing and crash headlong into one of these knowledge amplifiers, emerging on the other side changed and potent.

Knowledge does not confer wisdom. That is a slower process. Cecil learned everything about how to penetrate and invade computer systems, but he never realized that to possess the capability is far more valuable than actually putting it to use. A well-qualified expert in computer security will earn two or three times as much as a truck driver, and can always find gainful employment. Drunk with power, blind to reason or even common sense, Cecil, guns blazing, charged into a buzzsaw.

This sort of behavior will become increasingly common, as we see individuals with hypertrophied knowledge reach out with their extended capabilities, grasping at things which they do not yet wholly understand. The step function between ignorance and arrogance has become so clearly resolved, communities are growing into an understanding of how those newly engorged with knowledge become a danger to themselves and others. Some communities may isolate these individuals behind a ‘blast shield’ of plausible deniability, others will seek to engage and bring these fledglings into wisdom. Neither approach will be wholly successful.

Imagine the secrets of the atomic bomb had been revealed not at Los Alamos, but within a kindergarten classroom, filled with the high and mostly thoughtless emotions of children still far from their full cognitive capability, and lacking any capacity to restrain themselves. ‘Knowing is doing, and doing, knowing.’ An uncontrollable chain reaction, created in a momentary fit of pique, vaporizes everything. The child has learned how to build the bomb, but has not learned they must never drop it.

Human knowledge in the era of hyperconnectivity has achieved ubiquitous dissemination, and as a consequence all human knowledge will be reframed around consequence. It is not that you can know something; with few exceptions that will be nothing remarkable. The entrapment of information no longer carries within it the seeds of power; rather, the application of information becomes the new wellspring of puissance. We can all know the same things – nothing any longer prevents this – but our application of this knowledge will be guided by wisdom. We can seek to self-aggrandize and destroy, or we can support and strengthen. The choice is always there for everyone, though not everyone will be able to see it.

In the next billion seconds, ignorance, presently viewed as a character flaw, a state of complete lacking, will be seen as something easy to ameliorate, more like a bruise that needs bandaging than a permanent and disfiguring scar. We will acquire (and perhaps neglect and forget) whole bodies of knowledge, transforming our understanding daily, as we become more expert at learning from those who know, and build tools more perfectly suited to the ways we want to learn from them.

Once again, this is no utopia, but actually a world more fraught with human dangers than any we have ever known. If the boy next door can brew up a superflu because he didn’t get a date to the senior prom, we will need to be more sensitive to both the moods and the capabilities of others, or confront pervasive, sudden annihilation.

Communities of knowledge must derive from within themselves the essentials of self-regulation that prevent these sorts of disasters. We are playing with matches while doused in petrol, and need to recognize this. Good fire control policies will prevent needless tragedies, lives ruined (like David Cecil’s) or even lost, merely because our knowing outstripped our sense of what is right. This is the new ignorance, the penumbra of wisdom. It is not that we do not know, it is that we do not know what to do with our knowing.

37 – #MASTER

Apartment hunting can be tortuous. In a seller’s market – New York, Sydney, Hong Kong – prospective tenants endure all sorts of difficulties to secure the right flat at the right price in the right location. All of this happens in the dark. Very little information about rents has ever been publicly available. You won’t know a particular landlord is gouging you simply because he knows you don’t know any better. The landlord holds all the cards: not just the keys to the property, but the rental history of that property, rents for similar properties, maintenance costs for the property, and so forth. That information helps the landlord operate from a position of maximum advantage in the transaction, converting information into power.

This informational asymmetry means the landlord always gets the better deal: he who knows most wins, and keeps winning. Each win adds momentum and capability, gradually cementing the winner into a fixed position of dominance in the relationship. Information confers power, and power amplifies the ability to gather information, a feedback that, if unchecked, leads to domination.

The world is broadly composed of instances where information has concretized into the forms of power. Sumer springs forth from the information inscribed on countless clay tablets; Rome ran on papyrus until Egypt left its sphere of influence, whereupon, unable to manage its information flows, it collapsed; every modern state seeks to sequester the flows of information, through censorship, military classification, or taboo. East Germany’s Stazi created a nation that spied upon itself, submitting this information to an authority that used every last scrap of it to maintain its dominance.

The grand dictatorships of state power and the petty dictatorships of landlords both draw their sustenance from information asymmetry, arbitrageurs of the truth. Where the facts can be withheld, this gamesmanship will inevitably take root and quickly comes to dominate all interactions. In the kingdom of the informationally blind, the well-informed is king.

Where asymmetries exist, pressure builds to equalize them. Vast asymmetries – such as the darkest secrets of state – consequently necessitate thick walls of law, force and culture to keep the outside out and the inside in. The existence of a wall implies something to defend, so attacks always occur, attempts to release the informational pressure stored within. The first strikes, crude clawings at the goal, nearly always fail, but each failure feeds back into a process of assault continuing unabated and undeterred for as long as the wall persists. Eventually the attack succeeds, the wall comes down, and its contents spill forth. Information, like energy, has entropy, and broad distribution in equilibrium is easier to maintain than tightly-held concentrations.

There is now another way.

Rather than penetrating the chamber of secrets, the chamber can be surrounded with information of equal salience and equivalent or even greater density. Instead of one bright spot in a sea of darkness, everything is illuminated. The asymmetry vanishes because it is no longer singular, nothing special. It might even reverse, as the environment surrounding the wall becomes more dense with information than anything held within.

Renters in New York now share information about the rents they pay using RentHackr. The website generates a map of each entry (together with its location and date) so that other renters can compare equivalent prices in a particular neighborhood, building – perhaps even the apartment itself, if the previous tenant submitted information to RentHackr. The prospective tenant now knows as much about prices for a given unit as the landlord does – probably even more, since RentHackr’s thousands of contributors offer up a much broader range of experiences and information than any single landlord would have opportunity to encounter.

This shift has been as sudden as it has been complete. Landlords have always bargained from a position of power borne from informational asymmetry. So have governments, banks, and nearly every other organization or relation that operates with power. All of those carefully protected islands of knowledge become indistinguishable and unimportant as the ocean recedes.

The sharing of specific knowledge domains by communities of hyperconnected individuals is a revolutionary act. It overturns power structures reinforced by informational asymmetry without firing a shot, staging a strike, or even raising one’s voice. Sharing is the antithesis of violence, yet it yields greater results than bombs.

We are just coming into an understanding of the relation between sharing, knowing and power. The massive realignment of human relations and institutions that is one key attribute of the next billion seconds begins with the sudden vanishing of all power structures, everywhere, as the energy which fed them loses its potential. In an information-rich world, information is not, in itself, power. Power has migrated elsewhere, and all those who use power will be forced to migrate with it, into lands both distant and foreign.

The collapse of any given informational asymmetries has been driven more by whim and luck than any intention; they occur randomly and serendipitously, but with each collapse something is learned of the conditions which precipitated that collapse, information hyperdistributed and imitated when the opportunity arises. Each instance of collapse carries with it everything learned to this point, and thereafter carries everything learned in the current instance.

These moments of collapse consequently have become more frequent and more pronounced. Within this half billion seconds they will transition from the exception to the norm, until no power structure of any consequence persists in its antique and redundant form. Everything once believed concrete is suddenly seen to be a castle made of sand. As this perception becomes pervasive, everything connected with power becomes provisional. Our hierarchical relations, which tell us our place in the order, are being supplanted by relations of affiliation, which tell us who we are by whom we know. Since this is already the way the world actually works, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock.

We no longer have the comforts (and terrors) of power to guide us. There are no lords and no masters, no governor anywhere. But this is not utopia nor mere anarchy. There will still be power, but differently constituted, drawn not from secrets and silence, but emerging as a quality of connecting and sharing.

36 – #MIND

Everyone is an expert. Our presence in the world means that we will encounter a range of experiences, some of which, resonant, we will move toward, investing ourselves completely. Our passions drive us toward the goal, and our thirst for knowledge – inherent and unending – absorbs everything we encounter as we move from ignorance into expertise.

To repeat: everyone is an expert. The dimensions of individual expertise vary widely. Some love sport, others cars, food, politics, soap operas, film, dogs, aircraft, videogames – the list goes on, more or less endlessly. There is no limit to the number of things that interest us, at least none we have found. There is no line that will not be crossed in the drive to know; even the most transgressive topics have their aficionados, keeping their fetishes to themselves except when surrounded by others who share their predilections.

Experts revel in their expertise, wishing for the whole world to share their passion and depth of knowledge. A certain pedantry comes with that expertise; we have all been the recipient of a long monologue from someone declaiming the breadth of their expertise on some topic which barely interests us but which entirely consumes them. And if we should share the same passion – something we quickly discover – each plumbs the depths of the other’s expertise, greedily adding to our own knowledge.

Groups self-identify so they can proselytize, spreading the love of their football team or religion or favorite musician as naturally and automatically as breathing. Standing on street corners, handing out tracts, or in front of the stadium, wearing team colours, they point to themselves in order to find the others, attracting everyone who shares their interest. Together they share, teach and learn, explore and enjoy, and occasionally they capture some stories, so that other people, beyond their reach, might learn something of what they know.

Except in these moments of sharing captured, our expertise has mostly remained locked within our heads. It comes out as needed or when invited, but after the conversation ends, the expertise vanishes. Useful but evanescent, we can connect and share around our expertise, but could preserve it only with great difficulty. Every beginner has had to find the others, learning from them, every single time. For this reason, expertise has always been slow and hard-won.

That barrier has come down.

Every expert can now express their knowledge permanently, sharing their jewels in a form that lets everyone – from absolute beginner to guru – find and benefit from it. As soon as it became possible to share in this indelible, digital, hyperconnected, hyperdistributed form, it became utterly irresistible to all experts everywhere.

Over the last half billion seconds we have witnessed a momentous transfer of knowledge: The insides of each of our heads vacuumed out, contents replicated and transferred to vast libraries, broad and deep, reflecting everything known to any one of us, on every conceivable subject. The topic could be quotidian or impossibly obscure – it makes no difference. As soon as someone shares what they know, it is available to every one of us. We all know what they know.

Everything known is now widely known. There are no secrets anywhere, nor any knowledge hidden because of obscurity or intentional efforts to evade capture and replication. The age of omniscience allows us to know not just where we all are, but what we all know. If our heads could stretch wide enough, we could know everything known to everyone everywhere. Something recently impossibly fanciful is, if properly stage-managed, within the realm of possibility.

When a question arises outside our expertise, we instinctively consult the device in our palm, connected to all the other devices everywhere which have collected, collated and made all of this knowledge instantly searchable. We quickly locate the answer we need, and move on until the next question arises. We have grown entirely used to this pervasive ability to answer any questions, finding ourselves surprised – and at a bit of a loss – when we stumble upon some corner too obscure to admit an answer. Or perhaps we do not know how to frame the question? We know the truth is out there, but we have not learned how to find all of it.

Everything is known, has been shared, and, now available instantly to all of us, this guides our actions. We can check the truth of something before we make a decision concerning it. We can always work from the best available information at every given moment. There is no need for any of us ever to make a guess, drawn from our own imagination and prejudices. The facts are known and are immediately at hand.

We now have the benefit of the most expert information on every subject. We can walk in knowing nothing, reach out to the device in our hand, and learn everything we need to know at that moment to make the best possible decision. We can maximize our knowledge in every situation, and the continuous application of that knowledge improves our lives. This improvement is both gradual and general: the next billion seconds will see human decision-making become progressively less error-prone, more and more perfect, because of this steady injection of everything known by everyone about every topic under the sun.

In those moments when we remember that we have nearly perfect knowledge to fall back upon, we become smarter. As that moment, continuously repeated, becomes automatic and instinctive, we acquire a second mind, outside our own, vast beyond comprehension, containing everything, sitting alongside our own, smarter and wiser and faster, continuously informing us of how to maximize every moment.

Welcome to the hive.

35 – #MAXIMIZE

Experience trumps most other forms of sharing, the value of something lived through surpassing anything handed down or passed along. More than the dry bones of sterile knowledge, experience bears its scars proudly, each mark a sign of a hard truth. These truths spare others repeating the same pains where wisdom allows us to learn from the mistakes of others, or how to replicate their triumphs.

Experience has always been passed along by word-of-mouth. Periodically, a Thucydides or Marco Polo would commit experience to the page, so potent it would forever frame our understanding of the Peloponnesian War and imperial China. When books became commonplace, traveler’s tales from lands distant or imagined held a widespread allure, inviting us to immerse ourselves in the lived experience of another.

Books offer up a narrow channel for the delivery of experience, many filters between our lives and the printing press reducing the range of experience dramatically. We benefited from certain experiences, but not others, and these experiences would come to us filtered through just a handful of people. Seven billion people encompass an incredible wealth of experience; even if vitally important, only a minuscule portion of this ever became widely known.

How many mistakes have been needlessly repeated because we could not learn from others? Even where we might be willing and receptive, we have lacked the capability to know what others have experienced. This gap between experience and experience shared formed the greatest barrier to humanity’s forward progress.

That barrier has come down.

Hyperconnected, we immediately relay the details of every experience. We capture that experience and hyperdistribute it, so now it efficiently reaches everyone who shares our interest. If we need to know what it is like to change a diaper on a cranky baby, assemble the perfect Pad Thai, or suffer through a tax audit, someone has been there before us, sharing their experience for our benefit.

Every experience adds illumination to our own thinking. In the stories of what has happened to others, we anticipate what our own experience might be, gaining a sense of what to avoid and what to welcome. We can move away from error long before it becomes problematic, aligning ourselves to receive the maximum benefit within any given situation.

We have always done this. We learn the ways of the world and so do not fall down open manhole covers, or walk in front of moving automobiles; we inhabit a dangerous world, but benefit from a world of experience about how to live safely within it. We smile and offer generous warmth to others, knowing – from our own experience as well as the experience of others – that most often it will be reciprocated. We are not stupid: we flee the unnecessarily unpleasant, seeking out whatever delights the world has to offer.

Our capacity to learn from the experience of others, formerly slow, difficult, and narrow, has suddenly become fast, easy and pervasive. We share our experience and others have instant access to those experiences; when they share we immediately benefit. We record and receive these experiences on our mobiles, which come with us everywhere, always ready to capture and share. We look down into our devices and learn what others have done, those who have come to this place before us, and how that worked out for them.

We can walk into a restaurant and know precisely what every one of a thousand diners who have been there before us think of every offering on the menu. This experience invisibly guides our own choices, acting as a backstop and reference point. This tastes good; this does not. This is for the aficionado; this for the hoi polloi. Experience has more colours than simple black and white, so we do not simply all turn toward precisely the same thing, but operate within a range of excellence, driven by a combination of taste, experience and opportunity.

Where this once happened infrequently – perhaps we joined a foodie friend for dinner, who knew just what to order to create the perfect dining experience – it has now become a regular feature of our lives. We read online reviews as we stand before the entrance, debating whether to walk in. We throw out a question to our connections, some of whom have passed this way before us, harnessing all of their experience to inform our own choices in the moment. We use our hyperconnectivity to collectivize our experience: this collectivization protects us from the worst and often delivers the best in any given situation.

We like this. Our regular flow of experiences, formerly unmediated by the collective experience of everyone else, encompassed both the bitter and the sweet. Live and learn. As we grow more comfortable with and rely upon this wealth of experience, we refer to it more and more often, moving into a state of continuous peak experience. Only the best for us, because we have all of humanity to separate the gold from the dross.

Tastes differ. The peak for one could well be the depths for another. When we maximize every experience, we encounter both outer bounds more frequently. The middle, meh and lukewarm, gets abandoned in the climb up the mountain. During the next billion seconds, we will have more memorable moments, crowding out far fewer unimpressive ones. We are coming to expect the best, and it will seem perfectly quotidian to be thoroughly assaulted by excellence, from every quarter.

Experience is the best judge, and this judgement, shared and amplified, hyperconnected and hyperdistributed, provides us with the opportunity to maximize every act and every choice. We are all Epicurean now.

‘First we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.’ We have never rejected any tool which improves our capability to make the best possible decision. We now possess a tool a billion times deeper in experience than any we have ever used, a thousand times faster in action than the tools of half a billion seconds ago. We have now placed this tool in everyone’s hands.

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.

33 – #SHADOW

Who are you? What do you want?

Everywhere we go, these questions come to us, surrounding us like a magnetic field, our hyperconnected movements creating lines of force, as the world aligns to our presence, like so many iron filings. It makes no matter how we answer either of these challenges, for our actions betray us completely. We make a dent in the world just by observing it. Presence alone is entirely enough.

Like finds like. You can lie about your name or age or race or nationality or political persuasion or sexual preference or culinary taste or fashion peccadillo, but incongruent with your actions, that falsehood will be ignored, thrown out as noise amongst the growing body of data. Queers know queers. Liberals know liberals. Foodies know foodies. Jews know Jews. Our network of relationships tells anyone who cares to look everything they would ever need to know about who we are. Things we would never willingly reveal to another human being resolve into unmistakable clarity, because our relations speak louder than our declarations.

This information, captured and recorded, becomes the foundation for a simulacrum of the self. Who we know is who we are, so relationship provides the key that answers all other questions. We can not help this, nor can we prevent it; wired to communicate, compelled to share, we define ourselves in greater detail with each act of sharing.

Those who watch – and they are watching – know more about us than we do about ourselves, for cool and dispassionate, they do not ignore the uncomfortable truths that our unconscious elbows aside. Warts and all, they see us as we are, in our relations and actions. Their simulacra, more honest than we ourselves can choose to be, takes on a life of its own, because it is more faithful to reality. Shadow overwhelms substance.

Who are you? What do you want? Someone else knows. Someone else cares because possession of your simulacrum turns you into a puppet of sorts. Where you are known, your actions can be predicted and your needs met. At the scale of the individual, this is basic social grace. Hyperconnected, this becomes a force in its own right, a sort of governance that is not outward directed, nor democratic, but seeks to envelop and control through a perfect knowledge of appetites and fears.

Everything that Edward Bernays began comes to its culmination in Facebook. Where crowd psychology gave birth to modern public relations, Facebook amplifies and inverts the process, disaggregating the crowd into individual simulacra, each such a faithful representation that responses can be known with perfect accuracy. Behavioral targeting isn’t a side-effect of the digitalization of our network of relations; it is the entire point.

Nor is there any escape in withdrawal. Delete your Facebook profile and leave other traces, just as distinct, in Twitter and text messages. All of our communication betrays us. All of it flows through Facebook and Google, either through search requests and the constant indexing of web pages, or the ubiquitous ‘like’ buttons, which serve as the smiling outposts of a global force of secret police.

The Stasi never had it so good.

Carefully tended, our simulacra, like hungry ghosts, have endless needs. They require food, clothing, shelter, the gadgets and accoutrements of hyperconnectivity, and endless entertainment. We act, and they express our needs to those who seek to satisfy them. We never get precisely what we want, but rather, what they care to offer. Caged, we are not allowed to see the world as it is, instead provided a narrow view that fulfills the commercial imperatives of those who have incarcerated our shadows. Nailed down and boxed in, we lose the freedom to move.

This is the paradox of cyberspace, the high price of sharing: the more we are known, the less free we become. This unbounded environment for human expression has become the perfect cudgel, a velvet glove covering an adamantine fist.

That shadow of our collective selves has many of the same qualities of our individual simulacra: it has both appetites and fears, centering on the same phantom: control. With a population of billions of hyperconnected simulacra, a type of practical psychohistory becomes possible, a dream beyond the grasp of Bernays, but well within reach of Zuckerberg. The masses can be driven to buy, driven to fear, driven to believe. It can all be done far more dependably – on an individual basis – simply by redecorating the bars on the cage.

Imagine a smoker who, under the influence of friends, decides to quit – then faces a deluge of images of attractive individuals, smoking? Or an obese person, confronted by an unending vision of delicious food? Consider the believer, losing faith, reminded constantly of the pain of hellfire? This is all possible, and this is all happening right now, if with less obvious maliciousness – the goal generally being to get people to consume something. When it acquires a political dimension – as it has in Syria and Iran – it becomes something more obviously repugnant, though no different in essential nature.

We must connect and share. It is who we are. Yet these profoundly human acts open us to dangers we find ourselves unprepared for. Not very long ago, our simulacra existed only in one another’s heads. Today they sit in databases, the private province of those driven to control, hungry ghosts tending feedlots of hungry ghosts. We can not withdraw without sacrificing our essential nature, but engagement inevitably leads to entrapment.

Gilmore’s Law points the way forward: no censor can withstand hyperconnectivity. But our hyperconnectivity itself creates the conditions for this censorship. To be connected is to be observed, and this feeds the simulacra. We appear to be trapped in a loop of our own making, products of a process of accelerated nature, dragged down to earth by our shadows.

32 – #SHARP

Two people meet. They do not know each other, but thrown together – perhaps in a taxi, or sitting next to each other on a long flight – they break an uncomfortable silence with conversation. Too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry – everyone always starts with the weather, climate being the one thing we all share in common.

Somewhere during this conversation something else comes up – a mention of a child, a visit to a faraway land, or a favored pastime, immediately seized upon as broader common ground, a platform for further conversation. This exploration of what each knows begins with a series of confirmations of knowledge shared (we both know these things) but as conversation deepens it sharpens, reassurance transforming into exploration: what do you know? What can you teach me? What can I share with you that will surprise, delight or amaze you?

Under the right conditions, all of this can happen in a minute or less. We are spectacularly good at detecting and zooming in on the things that unite us (and, unfortunately, those that divide us), prepared to go deep in order to display our own prowess (thereby gaining in social standing), and equally prepared to become the student, when we stumble upon a true master.

A behavior this immediate and casual forms a template we repeat throughout every corner of our lives. All of our relations have this quality of discovery, where we assume one of three postures: master; student; or exploring together. Where several people come together to share, we will assume all of these roles simultaneously, teaching some, learning from others, and joining in open-ended endeavors.

From tribe to megalopolis, every grouping of humanity has seen us mix and match ourselves into these human networks of sharing. The antecedents of our schools, we have always come together in numbers to learn from one another, to teach one another, and to delve into the unknown. Most of our relations can be characterized in these terms: elders teaching the young; young learning from the experience of the old; lovers and friends striking out together on life’s great journey.

This, more than anything else, might be humanity’s defining quality. A recent study compared young chimpanzees with human toddlers on a range of intelligence tests. The humans blew past the chimpanzees because they learned from one another, teaching one another, pooling their knowledge to solve the tasks set before them. Chimpanzees, although very much as bright as those toddlers, did not share what they knew, and so had to re-invent the solution, every single time.

We share, and so take the shortcut, leveraging all previous experience into the present moment, sharpening the blunt instrument of our intelligence against the whetstone of learning. For time beyond measure, human culture has been so rich that we need to become learned in its ways, and we sustain this complexity only because we have developed effective techniques to cram all of it into the heads of the young. If we learned nothing from one another, we would still be arboreal foragers in the Rift Valley of East Africa, like our chimpanzee cousins.

Instead, we have schools, where we gather together in formally acknowledged roles of student and master, codifications of relations that existed informally but pervasively within the tribe. Yet the previous patterns persist, innate, immediate, and natural. In or out of school, we can not help but learn, nor can we stop ourselves from teaching.

Schools have always required the proximity of the city, students gathering together with masters in the Academy. In the tribe we were all together all the time, always available for any moment when knowledge could be shared. In our new-found hyperconnectivity we have recovered that moment, amplified with all of the tools and techniques of ten thousand years of school. We are always available to learn or to teach, but now we can learn from four and a half billion, and be taught by any of them, freely associating ourselves in common pursuit.

We share and thereby ‘find the others’ who share our passions and our pursuits, associating with them online and in the flesh, forming communities of ‘gurus’ and ‘n00bs’, each with a role to play. The student must sit at the feet of the master and learn. If they refuse to endure the necessary rites of passage, they will be heckled and ridiculed and excluded until they accept their place within the hierarchy of relations which characterizes all such groups.

Prized to the degree they choose to commit to the teaching of those less advanced, the teacher must balance teaching with learning, lest they fall behind in their own expertise, losing their place of prominence within that hierarchy of relations. Withdraw too completely and be considered selfish; give too willingly and lose one’s position. Those who can must do and teach.

The number of peers-in-expertise decreases as one approaches the pinnacle of craft. The more expert one becomes, the greater the pressure to demonstrate that expertise. These demands slow forward progress, and where nearly everyone is less expert, those demands become onerous. The most expert withdraw behind a cloud of mystery, and a guild materializes, a barrier between initiates and the hoi polloi.

A thousand years ago, that withdrawal would have kept knowledge hidden away, locked securely within a community of experts, but that withholding – a form of censorship – can not be sustained in the age of omniscience. Experts can remove themselves, but they can not remove their expertise. You can no longer take your toys and go home. Even where someone stops playing the game, the game goes on.

With a constant pressure from beneath to improve, there is no escape into expertise, only an increasing acceleration into greater expertise. Association becomes the only way to maintain expertise; there’s simply too much for any one mind to absorb. Communities spontaneously differentiate, relying upon individuals to be reservoirs of particular expertise within a greater body of expertise, knowing that all can be called upon as required, providing collective capacities far greater than any of its individuals.

This book is a shared pursuit – not just of the two co-authors, but of all readers interested in the topics explored in these hundred chapters. For this reason, we are now making public all of our research links – collected over the last 12 months – so we can more broadly learn from one another, and explore this collective sharpening of our minds.


31 – #SHOW

Mobile service in India costs quite a bit less than in the developed world. In 2009, during a price war, most of the nation’s carriers cut voice call rates to half a paisa a second – with 100 paisa in a rupee, that’s roughly one-hundredth of a US cent per second, roughly one-fiftieth the price a caller might pay in Australia or Europe for the same service. And although the average Indian mobile user spends only US $3 a month on their mobile subscription, for a huge number of India’s most poor, that’s too much.

As is customary for mobile carriers globally, Indian customers pay nothing if their calls can not be completed, but the recipient of the call knows who had called – their mobile records the caller’s number. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out that this ‘missed calling’ could be used as kind of signalling.

Many years ago, when interstate calling was still very expensive in the United States, I remember visiting aunts and uncles making missed calls to our home phone, informing us they’d arrived home safely. A single ring (on the single household phone), then silence. It saved them a few dollars, and saved us all some worry. For as long as direct dialing has been available, people have been missing calls intentionally, signalling one another. One ring: safe. Two rings: call me. Three rings: emergency.

India went from very little wired infrastructure – one phone per hundred people – straight into hyperconnectivity. At least half of all Indians now own a mobile. But without a wired history, how did the practice of missed-call signalling develop? Someone might have invented it on their own, but more likely it came via a visitor from a country where missed-call signalling was already commonplace. As soon as missed call signalling is practiced in front of someone else, it is understood, and begins to replicate. When a behavior is practiced on the network, it replicates quickly and broadly, soon becoming pervasive.

Human beings are excellent imitators. From our birth we imitate everyone around us, beginning with learning how to talk – an inconceivable feat of intellectual accomplishment, listening to and imitating our parents and older siblings. We learn so fast because we imitate one another so well. Wired for mimesis – imitation – we embody ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

If imitation has any boundaries, we haven’t found them. Harvard researcher Dr. Nicholas Christakis has spent the last decade studying how behaviors spread through our relationships. First, Christakis learned that tobacco smoking (and the decision to quit smoking) follows from our social connections. The more smokers we are in relation with, the more likely we are to smoke ourselves. The more of our friends decide to quit, the more likely it is that we, too, will stop.

More than just like finding like, Christakis showed that these behaviors actively spread through our connections. One person deciding to smoke makes it more likely their connections will smoke. One person deciding to quit makes it more likely others will follow. Christakis then found that this also characterized obesity: you are more likely to be obese if your connections are with the obese, and more likely to go on a diet if those around you have made that decision.

Our capacity to imitate one another so well makes us peculiarly susceptible to the actions of others. Everyone has heard a lecture on good behavior from their mothers that culminates with, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?” The answer, as it turns out, is probably yes. Our innate desire to imitate one another will even wrestle against the drive for self-preservation: we know that smoking and obesity are bad for us, but, under the influence of our connections – peer pressure – we surrender.

It goes deeper. Studies have also revealed that divorce spreads through our connections. If a couple you’re connected to breaks up, your marriage is in greater peril. Why is this? Does a close-to-home divorce get couples thinking about the dissatisfactions of marriage? Or is it simply a desire to imitate one’s friends, in sickness and in health?

Seen in this light, our connections have an almost epidemiological quality, acting as carriers for diseases of the body (obesity) and heart (divorce) which can infect us and leave us changed. Parents and mentors warned us to ‘be careful who you hang out with’; it’s common knowledge that maintaining connections with ‘the wrong crowd’ can be ruinous. Now we understand why. We are in each other’s heads, the best and worst parts of us always leaking out, or leaking in.

As we research how behaviors spread through the human network, we may attempt to medicalize our connections, creating a cordon sanitaire for ourselves and our children, places beyond the reach of these socially-transmitted diseases. This reaction – typified in the growing number of gated communities – only moves the threat, but never removes it. When you pick your friends, your colleagues, and your neighbors, you adopt their minds.

Humans have always been a colony organism, moving in sync together. The closer our connections, the closer our minds. Half a billion seconds ago, those connections, limited by speed and proximity, gave infections-of-the-mind a natural range. They could not spread quickly, nor very widely. Hyperconnected and disseminated at lightspeed, behaviors now go from unknown to ubiquitous in a few days. Half a billion seconds from now, it will all happen in a matter of seconds: hypermimesis.

Some behaviors – such as missed-call signalling – become immediately pervasive because they offer an improvement in connectivity, spreading through hypermimesis. Demonstration of a behavior over the network allows billions to observe and imitate that behavior. Every improvement in our connectivity (text messaging and missed-call signalling are but two among many) also improves our ability to imitate one another, via the network. Showing is doing, and doing, showing.