40 – #MUTINY

Strike!

Brothers and sisters, band together for solidarity’s sake! Reject the attempts to let power control you! Turn your back on them and join us out on the lines! Strike!

Whether Wat Tyler, Mother Jones or Lech Walesa, the cry has always been the same, drawn from the beating heart of human misery, striking out against arrogance and pride, avarice and greed, force and brutality. We will not be moved. Stand united never be defeated. Together, we shall overcome. Someday.

Set against one another, the forces of labour and the power of capital forged the modern world, a dialectical stamping press producing an endless supply of conflicts all cast from the same mold: workers and owners; poor and rich; proletarians and capitalists.

If there had never been accumulations of capital, there would be no proletarian uprising. Hunter-gatherer societies have no property nor any property needs beyond the essentials of food for today and shelter for tonight. They organize around the normal lines of primate power structures – alphas dominant and betas subservient – but no power persists, generation upon generation. That innovation comes with civilization, when the enclosure of the city created the storehouse of wealth. Poverty is a product of the urban revolution – as are riches.

These two extremes exclude the middle: neither rich nor poor, neither invested nor immune, never the actor, only acted upon. A revolution rises and falls with the sympathies of the middle class, so each side seeks to capture the middle ground, with promises of power and wealth, or assurances of equality and freedom, all groundless, insubstantial, wrought from the insincerity of aspiration or the earnestness of self-delusion. It is not that the situation never changes, rather that it will not change for those who do not change themselves. The middle must rise up or sink down. Where it remains in place the tumult continues unresolved, wheeling around a fixed axis, generating heat but no light.

During the last half billion seconds, labor and capital remained in rough balance throughout the world: wherever capital exploited labor, reaction to that exploitation expressed itself in resistance, from the petit sabotage of casual vandalism through to the sit-in, the lock-out, and the general strike. These weapons cut both ways; the workers can blockade the factory, or the owners can lock the workers out. But always one or the other, acting or reacting, thrusting or blocking. Each seeks to get the middle onside, fighting another battle for hearts and minds, wanting a sudden end to the forever war.

The middle, always acted upon, now acts for itself.

Call a general strike on a public transport system, to prevent the white-collar workers from getting to their city desks and city jobs, and someone, somewhere writes an app that allows them to carpool with greater efficiency than ever before. The sting gone, poison sucked clean from the wound, the effort collapses.

Mistreat labor, then try to suppress news of this action: the Age of Omniscience guarantees that someone, somewhere will learn of it, sharing this news until it becomes pervasive knowledge. Someone, somewhere writes an app that allows everyone, everywhere to walk the aisles of any shopping mall, specifically highlighting the products of that mistreated labor, so consumers can easily avoid them. The power of capital to cover its own actions has vanished. All is known, all is taken into account, and any effort to suppress either truth or labor collapses.

Hyperintelligence means each of us lives within everything everyone else knows. This is not mere trivia — the population of British India at the fin de siecle, or the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. This is the concrete, the useful, the salient. The things that matter and the things that can be made to matter: as we know more our priorities change. Things that might never have concerned us in our ignorance will vex us endlessly in our understanding.

There comes a point when one knows too much. Ignorance is bliss; it’s opposite is the moment when the interconnectedness of one’s knowing and one’s actions results in a liberation from habit and expectation, a mutiny from the mundane, crying non serviam to the quotidian.

Everything gives you cancer; everyone is corrupt; everything is corruption. It was ever thus, and will ever be, failure without end. This moment of utter damnation is the price of omniscience; to know everything is to bear witness to the sins of the world.

But equally this looms as the moment of utter revelation, and in that light all things become possible. Nothing is certain, not even the past. There is no pattern, only inclination, and we can choose to incline ourselves toward the parts of one another which affirm and strengthen. The darkness comes only from knowing and keeping our eyes tightly closed.

There is no top, no bottom, nor any middle, anywhere. There is no power, nor force. It is all finally in our heads, all of it: not just the psychological projections of fantasy and forethought, but the collected knowledge and experience of everyone, everywhere.

We are all unspeakably rich; we are all in fetters and rags. We are each of these things simultaneously, and this is why our knowing pains us. We are free, but conscious of our enslavement; we are powerless, yet swollen with capability. We confuse ourselves because we have always thought ourselves one-or-the-other, but have suddenly achieved both, or rather, gained all.

This is the triumph of the milieu, the accelerating middle which sweeps both top and bottom into its current and carries everything in its path toward some common destiny. It is not the end of difference, but its quintessence, because each point of difference is held in common. Our minds reject this as inconceivable; we find the mutiny even within ourselves. But we can not turn our back on the way the world now works. We can not divorce ourselves from hyperintelligence. It has become the spirit of the world, the hammer to our anvil.

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.

6 – #REVELATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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