7 – #REVOLUTION

As the world grows more connected, it grows more tumultuous. Fifty years ago, Marshal McLuhan described electric media as extensions of the human nervous system. In the same way that our nerves signal pain, heat, or a gentle caress by the transmission of an electric signal, so our devices – telegraphs and telephones, radios and televisions, laptops and mobiles – carry signals from distant points. The greater our connectivity, the broader our sensitivity. We might desensitize from constant exposure to a particular image or sound, but we remain alert, continuously bombarded by new stimuli, perpetually off-balance as we struggle to take it all in.

The world beating down our doors has an immediacy that McLuhan termed the ‘global village’. Everything happens in our own backyard, or feels as though it does, even when it occurs on the other side of the world. Without an ‘over there’, it becomes difficult to maintain the illusion of otherness we have always used to reinforce our innate xenophobia. We can turn away, unplug, and reinforce ourselves with comfortable, oft-told tales of who we are and our place in the world. But the world itself has become relentless, unceasing in its presentation of everything, all the time.

Some of the stories we hear resonate with our own experience. We learn that others’ tastes match our own, or of a shared, secret hope, or that what angers us also angers them. An anger which had been hidden – by social constraint or threat of force – becomes an acknowledged part of lived experience. It comes ‘out of the closet’, and, once made public, begins to shape our actions. Freed from self-censorship, shared understanding motivates us to act. “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.”

What is to be done?

The same network sensitizing us to the anger of others carries within it the seeds of a response. These responses range from a politically bruising joke, spread by text message, to smartphone software that automates a boycott, all the way to detailed instructions on how to build an explosive device. The network faithfully copies the responses of any point in the network to all other points that find this response sufficiently interesting. The network becomes the replicator of responses, and as these responses proliferate, people become more capable.

Capacity-building leads to action. Every new capacity changes the possible scope of our actions. Even if we practice perfect restraint, an awareness of our capabilities pervades every act. Where restraint has been overwhelmed by anger, capability finds expression. An uprising begins. It could be as mild as a boycott against a monopoly publisher of scientific papers, or as convulsive and comprehensive as Egypt’s January 25th Revolution. The pattern of connect -> share -> learn -> do sits at the core of each of these moments of acting together.

These uprisings become white-hot moments of hyperconnectivity. Everyone looks to one another, watching and learning from one another, learning how to act most effectively in pursuit of goals. Tips and tricks spread like wildfire. Failures propagate just as quickly, so mistakes made once are rarely replicated. Everything moves quickly as many minds buzz with shared possibilities, some of which finds consensus and moves into the actual.

There is no center, anywhere, no leader, no puppet master pulling the strings. There are no conspirators who can be removed to break the back of the movement. There are no officials to corrupt or blackmail. This confraternity of the angered must soothe itself.

Some inevitably see the network as the engine of the discord, mistaking the messenger for the message, attempting to smother the uprising by pulling the plug. But networks are not machinery. The instrumentation which implements a network is distinct from the network itself. Remove the machinery and the network – the connection between individuals – remains. Once created, networks are very, very difficult to destroy.

Networks respond when attacked, learning from their enemies, deepening their resilience with every battle. A network which has never been assaulted likely contains great vulnerabilities, while a network that has gone to war against a great power emerges from that conflict as a power in its own right.

Dependable for five thousand years, in this billion seconds the logic and rules of power have become wildly perverse. Individuals hold almost unfathomable power while the state loses its ability to reign in the capabilities of those it seeks to govern. At the end of this billion seconds, that kind of control will belong to history.

Even if we felled every cellular tower, pulled up every meter of copper and glass fibre, and wrecked every bit of network machinery, we could not change this, because this change has already happened to us. It was accelerated by our machines, but that machinery is no longer essential. We know what we know, so we do what we do.

We know what we know, but we do not know that we know. Our actions are clumsy. We sleepwalk, stumble, and lash out, unaware that we can perfect our coordination and act with precision. We daydream our way into hyperempowerment: although we draw our power from our networks, we do not yet understand how.

The whole point of this book is to show us how our networks have driven us inexorably into hyperempowerment, how it arises inevitably from hyperconnectivity, and how we can put this radical extension of human capability to work. “Revolution without revelation is tyranny. Revelation without revolution is slavery.” We are in the midst of revolution. Things will only grow more chaotic as more individuals, drawn into networks of interest, express these extended capabilities. Revelation is the only option left to us: we must learn who we are.

To do that, we must begin with who we once were.

4 – #REPLICATION

Networks are copying machines.  There is no magic to them, beyond this: data presented at any point on the network can be copied to every other point within the network, nearly instantaneously.   A text message can be reproduced across six billion mobiles within a few seconds.  A single email, copied and multiplied, could reach every one of the greater than two billion of us with Internet access.  Neither of these extraordinary events require anything beyond the networks already in place.  The network can copy all of us in on the same memo.

Networks have no other point: they copy and copy and copy.  They can’t do anything else.  Every other quality we ascribe to a network (and this book describes a multitude of them) is a product of our own interactions across the network, not of the network itself.

Short of unplugging it, there is no way to stop a network from copying.  The network doesn’t perform copying as one of its features: to network is to copy.  Networks allow the replication of information at speeds nearing that of light, so every point of connection, however far-flung, acts upon the same data.

The Internet, born to service a resilient command-and-control system, designed to withstand the Mutually Assured Destruction of thermonuclear war, replicated the tactical information within each of the US Defense Department’s strategic installations, so that each base had a complete, real-time overview of the battlefield.  Should part of the network vanish – vaporized – the remaining portions of the network could pool their tactical observations to maintain situational awareness.  To disrupt the tactical capability provided by the network, it must completely destroyed, because for as long as any part of the network exists, it will continue to replicate information.

In the years between the genesis of the Internet and hyperconnected present, we have created networks for militaries, governments, businesses, institutions of all kinds, and, finally, individuals.  The network is nearly coextensive with the species, with nearly eighty-five percent of humanity continuously connected to it.

These networks, like all networks that have ever existed, replicate information, but now do so ubiquitously.  Reports of an earthquake travel faster than the earthquake itself.   Copied from those who have the information to those who need to have it, the more important something is, the faster it replicates across the network. Because it copies, network is an information amplifier, making anything whispered almost infinitely loud.

We feed the network with things we find important, and if others share our enthusiasm, those things will be copied across the network.  At one extreme, it could be news of a massive temblor; at the other, it could be a melodramatic pop song that struck just the right emotional chord.  The network does not care what it copies, has no awareness of ‘media’, only information.  A tune or an image or a cry for help: although each will be replicated faithfully, they mean nothing to the network.  The network does not know; it only knows to copy.

When information is replicated across the network, the recipients of that information respond to it.  “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.”  The cry for help will be answered, the image viewed, the tune heard.  Within us, the response to information is nearly as automatic a function as the replicating function of the network.  We respond to everything we are exposed to, even if only in a change of thought or mood.

Some responses are stronger than others.  Some responses are so strong that they provoke attacks on the network itself.  Confusing the strength of the provocation with the capability of the network, and ascribing to the network an agency which it can not possess, attempts are made to shoot the messenger.   But the network can not provoke, it can only copy.

When the network is attacked, news of that attack is copied across the network.  Whether that attack comes from a hydrogen bomb or a lawsuit is of no particular consequence.  The existence of the attack is enough.  Networks copy the state of each of their endpoints: if any endpoint comes under threat, all other endpoints know of it.  In short order, the attack provokes a response.  The network, sensitized to the existence of a threat, answers across its entirety.

That brings us to the present moment, to a network responding to a perceived attack.  The legislative cudgel of SOPA/PIPA, with its implicit threat of censorship (censorship is any process which prevents the network from faithfully replicating information) has become common knowledge, propagated by the network it seeks to control.  The responses, at first marginal, then measured, have recently cascaded into a non-linear zone of amplification, as the network demonstrates to itself what it means to tamper with its essence as a replicating machine.

Wikipedia is a near-perfect instance of a product of a network replicator.  Facts presented at any point in the network become instantly available – for consumption, review, editing or discussion – across the entire network.  In less than a decade Wikipedia went from wishful thinking to indispensable resource, serving as a factual foundation for our intellectual efforts.

It isn’t until that foundation disappears that we recognize our dependency upon it: fish are unaware of water.  We are immersed in a sea of factual information orders of magnitude greater than any generation before us, knowledge instantly and ubiquitously accessible, via the network.  We use that information to broaden our knowledge, and with that knowledge, make better, more-informed decisions.  “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.”

Any interruption in knowing must inevitably weaken our ability to do, narrowing the scope of our capabilities.  That is the price of censorship in any form – political, cultural, or economic.  In a wholly networked world that price becomes immediately visible.   “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsim.”   People will not suffer the destruction of their capabilities, not when they can use the network to defend those capabilities.

Now that the knowledge that the network can be used to defend itself has replicated throughout the network, the network has become exponentially more resilient and resistant to any attempts to alter its fundamental replicating function.  Trying to kill the network has only made it stronger.