Beijing apartment fire, tweeted live

What does the future hold? Sown today, the seeds of the future show us what tomorrow brings.

For example, consider a request recently issued by Matt (@ponk):

Carried from person to person, each forwarding it along into their own connections, this plea reached tens of thousands of people within a few hours, some of them Welsh-speakers, and eager to help. Matt quickly got flooded in offers of assistance, finally lamenting, “I wish there was some way to tell everyone I’ve received the help I asked for.” Thanks travel more slowly, and less broadly, than requests for help. Matt will find people responding to his request for some weeks to come, as it slowly diffuses out to hyperconnected humanity.

Even just a few years ago, with no way to reach out and reach everyone with our requests, we didn’t even think in these terms. We settled for what we had at hand, and made the best of it. Now we bring the best the planet has to offer to everything we do. Yet we do this inconsistently because we do not remember that in every moment we have billions with us. Only when it occurs to us do we fall back on our line of supply – fortified with hyperconnectivity, hyperdistribution and hyperintelligence transformed into hyperempowerment – acting with unprecedented strength. Like Matt, we frequently seem amazed and almost overwhelmed by our own capabilities.

In other ways, we take these new capabilities entirely for granted.

A fire in an apartment block in Beijing gets tweeted (with an accompanying dramatic photo) almost as soon as smoke pours from the building. Anyone listening for news from Beijing would see this photo, despite the fact that Twitter is banned in China, pervasively censored within an autocratic and ever-vigilant state. Somehow the news leaks out from behind the ‘Great Firewall’, where, almost immediately, it gets picked up by and shared with everyone who cares about Beijing. This happens not over days, but within minutes.

Hyperconnectivity has given us eyes everywhere, seeing things when others see them. We no longer wait for wire services or newspapers to tell us what’s happening. In an unremarked upon reversal, we now tell them. We pass along the important items that merit broader coverage. We are the news, but somehow this fact is not news. Everything looks much as it did half a billion seconds ago, even though everything now works quite differently.

Having eyes everywhere does change some things, as my friend Rod (@rod3000) indicates with this tweet:

In a hyperconnected culture, the near impossibility of anonymity of any public act gives us all pause. Someone, somewhere has the capacity to capture and share our actions. Anything done in secret will be broadcast, if it incites enough interest. Rod runs every day – and has undoubtedly endured his share of taunts over the years – but only recently realized he could share those taunts with others – and direct his observations to the police department monitoring probationary ‘P-plate’ drivers.

Rod needn’t have beamed the message to the authorities; his message would have found its way there, eventually, forwarded along by someone who took offense at the act. That’s one scenario, but it’s easy to imagine things spinning slightly out-of-control: his message could have inspired some of the public to action, a hyperochlocracy that could quickly translate a license plate into an owner, an owner into a driver, and a driver into a target of derision.

The boundaries of acceptable public behavior have always been arbitrated by the mob. Go too far and the mob will shun you, taunt you, perhaps even kill you. The mob serves as the mindless enforcer of the public will.

In the United Arab Emirates, the public – which favors conservative Islamic dress, up to and including the whole-body-covering abaya – Emiratis have been confronted by a deluge of foreigners (only 10% of the population of the UAE are native-born) with very different customs of dress and personal modesty. Asma al-Muhairi, a young Emirati, took it upon herself to begin a campaign to bring modesty back to the public places – malls, parks, beaches and restaurants. From the Twitter account @UAEDressCode, al-Muhairi connects to and works with other Emiratis to bring modest dress back into the public sphere.

The account has become a gathering place for people to connect, share, learn from one another, then transform that learning into doing, eventually catching the attention of the UAE’s Federal National Council, which pledged stronger measures to enforce the existing dress codes. Should hyperochlocracy successfully pressure UAE’s foreign-born population into conservative public dress, it will be a victory for the hyperconnected. But even if the campaign fails, everyone who participated in it has learned from their experience, and will put that experience to work the next time they need it.

Although we might imagine hyperochlocracy and hyperpolitics serve only radical ends, they can equally serve as the enforcers of conservative values. Wherever the mob finds an organizing principle, hyperochlocracies emerge. As we become more connected, we find ourselves increasingly confronted by the actions of others, inhabiting a state of continuous agitation (bordering, at times, on outrage), and as a result giving birth to an unending series of hyperochlocracies. Paradoxically, when we try to turn our backs on the future, we instinctively reach for the tools the future has provided.

In a 2003 interview with THE ECONOMIST, science fiction writer William Gibson (who coined the term ‘cyberspace’) quipped, ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ Tomorrow has already arrived. The technologies have been deployed. We are all already hyperconnected — if we spend the next half billion seconds bringing the remaining two billion into hyperconnectivity, that’s little more than a denouement, almost an afterthought. The hard work is done.

Buzzing with ideas, each of us shares everything of importance, learning more and more every day about how to thrive in a hyperconnected world. Everything we learn we pass along, so we are learning very quickly now. Every day brings something new. The future is already here, and we hold the instrument of its distribution in our hands. Today. We no longer need to wait until tomorrow.


A curious device has begun to appear at civil disturbances. Small enough that it can be worn on the body, this ‘IMSI catcher’ electronically lures all nearby mobiles into connecting to it. Once connected, those mobiles enter a negotiation with the device, which asks them first for their number, then – if they would be so kind – to stop using encryption on their messages. So that those messages can be read by anyone.

The gadget has a two-fold purpose. First, when mobiles connect to it, they can not connect to the broader mobile network. They become nearly pointless slabs of silicon, glass and plastic, unable to communicate with the world beyond. Second, those connected mobiles render up the contents of all of their outgoing communication – text messages, data transmissions, voice calls. The gadget builds the social graphs of the people participating in the disturbance, as they fruitlessly try to connect.

Drop it anywhere, in any crowd, and the IMSI catcher will generate the map needed to disrupt the relations in any community, producing results torture can not. This has made these devices broadly popular, for they solve a vexing problem in the age of hyperconnectivity: how do you disrupt an emerging hyperpower? The state will use every technique at its disposal to maintain control. As witnessed in in Egypt, any sufficiently desperate state will even disrupt its own networks to thwart hyperempowerment.

The existence of an IMSI catcher means the war of power against the hyperempowered has already begun. One thwarts the other’s hyperconnectivity, while the other thwarts the thwarting.

Indian ISPs, forced to block all BitTorrent websites – until a court order reversed the ruling – found themselves, after the judgement had been reversed, receiving numerous requests to have specific content removed from their sites. Anonymous broke into the server of the firm issuing these requests, then altered the request to something less serious, and much more embarrassing. The long arm of control – commercial censorship (disguised as copyright), backed by the state – reached out to disrupt hyperdistribution, pulling back a bloodied stump.

Similarly, should these IMSI catchers prove successful, some clever people will be compelled to invent an ‘IMSI catcher catcher’. This anti-gadget would advertise itself over the appropriate radio channels identifying itself as hundreds or even thousands of fake mobiles, keeping the IMSI catcher busy and overwhelmed with meaningless or misleading transmissions. With the IMSI catcher caught in the snare of the anti-gadget, protesters would remain free to hyperconnect into hyperempowerment.

Hyperempowerment can be blocked, temporarily, but every block produces a stronger countervailing force: Gilmore’s Law in practice. This is the contour of the next billion seconds, a succession of blocks and disruptions, as every institution with any power confronts hyperempowerment and struggles to contain it.

There is no lock anywhere, nor any wall, law, or taboo, that will not be broken. Anything that remains will survive at the sufferance of the hyperempowered, because it pleases them. There is no question of whether this will happen – it is already happening. The only question remaining for us concerns how we choose to greet this transformation of our capabilities, our quantum leap into hyperempowerment.

As the generation caught in the midst of this transition from unconnected to hyperconnected, our actions have a disproportionate influence on the generations following us. The things we do today shape the world to come. We are in the process of articulating a new language, and it falls to us to form the first words. These words make the world that all who follow us will inhabit, and though they will utter their own new words, they will inevitably draw from the language we passed down to them. They will build upon what we are now creating anew.

We must accept that each word we utter will bring something down. It sounds pleasingly puissant to possess that kind of power, but we who have grown up with the presumptions of power are not well-constituted to live without it. Much that others did for us we need to do for ourselves. Much that we took for granted no longer holds true. As power falls, we increasingly find ourselves caught out by the delusions of power, things we believed eternally true, but which are no longer.

Neither can we be so afraid of our Shaivite aspect that we keep silent for fear of disrupting ourselves. If we do not do it, billions of others, who have different aims – some in concert with ours, others in conflict – will. On a hyperconnected planet, there is no place to drop out, no hermitage that puts us beyond the reach of those touched by hyperconnectivity and transformed by hyperempowerment. We can choose to remain silent, we can choose not to listen, but neither posture will prevent or even slow this process.

Thus far this has been an unconscious revolution. It has happened to us, but not with us. That is changing. We are becoming aware of ourselves, in our vast and potent billions. Every day we connect, share, and learn about ourselves, and all of this changes the scope of possibilities for doing. Some of this doing reflects back upon us; it is not only that we can do, but that we know we can do.

Can we sit between delight and terror, balanced carefully, neither feeding adolescent fantasies of universal apocalypse, nor the magical thinking that our acts alone (or our withdrawal from the world) could prevent it?

Should we try to do too much for ourselves, at the detriment to others, they will rise to block us, just as, situation reversed, we will rise to block them. We have great power without great freedom. Our scope for action has narrowed in concert with the force we bring to our acts, a paradox that will seem completely natural a billion seconds from now, but one which makes us feel strangely confined.

Just as everything opens up, we feel the walls of our cage. We want to knock down those walls – while we are kicking down so many others – only to learn that we are the walls. The billions of us – Homo Nexus – have come together in an unexpected form. Like infants struggling against our limits, we have a lot to learn about the bounds of the possible.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

51 – #FAIL

Power is never an end in itself. Despite the perfectly malevolent quality of Orwell’s Inner Party, power is always a means to an end, and the end is always the same: survival. Power confers success on those who possess it, and therefore power and its possession have always been strongly selected for. We scramble for power, we fight for power, we wrestle over power, and, when absolutely required, we divide it.

Nothing about power has changed for a very long time – much longer than the lifetime of our species. All of the hominids play their own power games: chimpanzees use violence, bonobos employ sex. Power, hard and soft, remains the organizing principle of our relations, structuring them comprehensibly. We know who to look up to, and who to look down upon.

Those in power tend to remain in power because they use their power to that end. This strategy has proven so successful that most of us, most of the time, don’t bother to question the ‘natural’ order of things. Those on top stay on top, while underneath, powerless to resist, the rest do as they are told.

In the rare moments when this careful balance tips askew, when the mechanisms of power ossify or themselves become the cause of amplifying levels of disruption, power, naked and revealed, loses puissance. People stop believing, and power becomes impotence. The old order, overthrown, makes way for a new order, which quickly uses its new power to reinforce its own hold on power. Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss.

From the first time an aging alpha male Pierolapethicus fell before a young upstart, to the latest Machiavellian maneuvering in a corporate boardroom, it was ever thus: This is power. We all want it, and we all want to be free from it. Capability and restriction couple completely within power. We want to hold the whip, but to do so we must feel the lash. Of all the paradoxes of power, this is the most perplexing and essential: we beat ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Bloodied, we become compliant. Beaten, we become abusers. The cycle propagates.

Hyperconnectivity has overwhelmed the linkages which transmit power. Now that anyone, anywhere can reach out to everyone, everywhere, instantly, power has become less powerful, relatively, than the power of the hyperconnected, hyperempowered individual. The powerful, surrounded by the hyperempowered, suddenly appear weak.

This threat to power has emerged so quickly – over the last half billion seconds – and so subtly that until quite recently it appeared as though the regimes of power which existed before the emergence of Homo Nexus would continue to maintain control. This is provably not the case – now that power has to contend with hyperempowerment – so power seeks any mechanism at hand to consolidate its control. Power seeks to disrupt hyperempowerment.

In the panicked search for solutions, power reaches for the censor as the first most reasonable mechanism of control. All posts monitored, all messages read, specific services blocked for reasons of ‘state security’. Censorship raises the pressure of informational asymmetry, creating the fertile conditions for the development of new techniques for connecting, sharing and learning.

Barred from sharing their political feelings on Facebook, Libyians used popular dating websites to covertly signal their revolutionary intent, using a dab of green eyeshadow, or a few fingers extended in an unusual position to indicate allegiances, arrange meetings, and coordinate the overthrow of their government.

Censorship does not work and can never work because it assumes the pressure of informational asymmetries can persist indefinitely. Instead, censorship ensnares power in an ever-expanding set of relations which must be managed and interrupted. Power is eventually overwhelmed by the Burden of Omniscience, the censor swept aside, and everything is known.

Informational asymmetries have a tendency to equalize, just as temperature differentials do in thermodynamics. This is the essence of Gilmore’s Law. Censorship is not simply bad politics, it is literally impossible. Attempts to censor end in the revelation (sometimes catastrophic) of the censored material, and meanwhile generate techniques which render additional attempts at censorship increasingly ineffective. The more you tighten your grip, the more slips through your fingers.

When power recognizes that it can not simply censor its way into preserving itself, it begins to flail around, looking for the ‘off switch’. Since hypermpowerment is the by-product of hyperconnectivity, removing hyperconnectivity should deprive individuals of their hyperempowerment.

It’s not that easy.

Hyperempowerment is not technological. Technology serves as a scaffolding for the emergence of a suite of new behaviors – hyperdistributed hypermimesis – and these behaviors persist even after the scaffolding is removed. What we now know about how to connect, share and learn has been facilitated by six billion mobile devices, but what we know that empowers us resides within us, not within the devices. Pulling the plug produces a moment of disorientation, followed by the immediate enactment of the hyperconnected behaviors of hyperempowerment by any means necessary, and through every medium at hand.

Hosni Mubarak cut off Internet access in a revolutionary Egypt, but the protests continued – and grew larger – as people translated their digital networks of relations into physical contacts. In a final, desperate act, he brought the mobile carriers down – crashing the Egyptian economy in the process – and only accelerated his own fall from power.

Our networks are an outward sign of an inward state. What we have learned and embodied over the last half billion seconds of hyperconnectivity can not be unlearned. We have an entirely new kit of behaviors – the gifts of hyperconnectivity – and these have broad application throughout our all of cultures. Our essence as the species that communicates has been transformed in its core, by hyperconnectivity.

Power worked well for Homo Sapiens. It remains to be seen if it works at all for Homo Nexus. Over the next billion seconds, as power at every level – from parent and child, to state and citizen – confronts this fundamental reordering of our oldest cultural artifacts (so old they predate artifice) – we will experience an accelerating series of attempts to censor. When censorship inevitably fails, what follows will be a panicked search for any way to disempower the hyperempowered.

Power must disrupt relations in order to survive. All such attempts are doomed to fail.

49 – #FORCE

Someone jumps the turnstiles at the train station. It’s upsetting: no one likes to see such a flagrant violation of the law performed to so publicly. A moment of dissonance and powerlessness: You really ought to do something. Something ought to be done. Then the gate-jumper disappears, lost in the crowd.

The act has been witnessed, of course. Scores of closed-circuit TV cameras cover every area and every angle, but with so much to see, is anyone watching? Every Panopticon requires its Argus, studded with eyes, eternally vigilant. The concentration of observation in surveillance requires a center greater than the sum of its inputs. Crumbling under the Burden of Omniscience, power gives out that it sees all while actually observing very little.

This gap between the recorded and the observed exists only in the hierarchies of top-down power. I see the queue-jumper, for he makes his leap right in front of me. Yet except on the very rare occasion when I might be called upon as an eyewitness in a criminal investigation, my observations mean nothing to power. That does not make them meaningless.

Power is not the arbiter of salience. Had I my camera to hand (instead of in my pocket) and snapped a photo of the offender, then shared it, the image would have achieved a momentary ‘caught in the act’ notoriety, seen by everyone connected to everyone who cared enough to send it along. If that snap had been of something more provocative – such as an assault – the image would have traveled far and wide, likely getting picked up by the broadcast media, instantly amplifying its reach a hundred fold. If it bleeds, it leads.

Hyperconnected, we now each confront a succession of hyperdistributed images: some funny, others sad, a few nonsensical, a small number clawing at the heart. When a 68 year-old grandmother gets bullied to tears by a squadron of 13 year-old boys, that’s a tragedy. When one of those boys posts the video to YouTube, the tragedy (via hyperstupidity) becomes an instant sensation. Empathy is a flavour of salience; we feel its importance to us. When someone gets hurt, we understand the pain in our souls.

A few people joined in pain would be unremarkable, but a planet, hyperconnected, sharing and feeling, foment hyperochlocracy, the new mob rule. The mob has no center. Things just happen, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively. The boys received thousands of death threats; the grandmother, over half a million dollars in donations. The separate actions of the mob constitute the death of a thousand cuts, while its collective actions have a force beyond any expectation.

Hyperochlocracy is not personal, nor can it be called up and put down like a legion of loyal troops. It can not be invoked or appealed to, because there is no there there. It has no it. It is substantial without substance. Yet it possesses an undeniable reality that becomes visible only just as it rises into being.

A nine-year old girl in Scotland, tracking her school dinners for a class project – which she photographed, rated, and posted to her blog – catapulted to fame when a local newspaper discovered her blog, and wrote it up. After many thousands of visits, the local government council banned the child from taking any photos of her meals, claiming the cafeteria staff feared for their jobs (some of the less appetizing meals had been shared around widely).

Given the attention already focused on the child’s blog, the ban produced a ‘Streisand Effect’ (named after the singer, who tried to have aerial shots of her beachfront home removed from a public survey, which only directed millions more to the imagery, an early example of hyperdistribution and hyperochlocracy working hand-in-hand), the blog’s visitor count jumped by another few million, and – under the full glare of the national press – the head of the local council rescinded the ban.

Where mob rule tips over into organized public action, hyperochlocracy becomes hyperpolitics, the precise and enduring application of hyperconnectivity and its sequelae to achieve a goal in the public sphere. Over the next billion seconds, hyperpolitics will become the dominant form of collective action, replacing democratic processes that provide the ‘reassurance ritual’ (as Alvin Toffler aptly named it in The Third Wave) of voting, but leave the voter disconnected from the actual mechanism of power.

Hyperconnectivity leads to hyperpolitics: connecting, sharing, learning and doing inevitably culminate in a specific coherence, salience extending beyond a specific moment or current outrage, something that outlasts a media firestorm or a meme du jour. When the mob stops to think, and does not simply decompose into its constituent relations, but remains, receptive and ready, hyperempowerment has become hyperpolitics.

The moments of hyperempowerment grow more frequent. The emergence of hyperpolitical forces – persisting for hours or weeks – no longer delivers the same thrilling shock of the new that it did a hundred million seconds ago, but we still know next to nothing of this newest human organizational form.

We do know that the more it happens, the more it tends to happen. Every experience of hyperempowerment teaches us more about hyperempowerment: techniques and tools, learned, tried and shared, which become part of the next moment of hyperpowerment. Each experience of hyperpolitics teaches us more about what leads to permanence and coherence, the specifics of salience.

As the longest-running experiment in hyperpolitics, ANONYMOUS has thousands of constituent members constantly engaging in a search for the salient, looking for something to ‘rally the troops’ around a specific action, campaign, prank or attitude. If ANONYMOUS decided that turnstile-jumpers represented a grave threat to freedom (or, perhaps, simply for the lulz), the organization could quickly deploy individuals to monitor barriers in stations throughout the world, and gate-jumpers would be caught in the act.

This represents police force perfected beyond the wildest dreams of any dictator, because it comes from the people, connected. But antipathy to control is the price of hyperconnectivity. We can do anything we want, but only so long as no one tells us we must.


Of course I found out over Twitter. Sitting in my cafe, settling in to write another chapter, I found Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC, tweeting about the changes just announced at Fairfax, Australia’s oldest news publisher. Twenty percent of the staff sacked – including a large portion of editorial – plus the transformation of flagship broadsheets Age and Sydney Morning Herald into cheaper-to-produce tabloids, and migration of most web-accessible content behind a metered paywall.

I found out over Twitter because Mark Scott posted the tweet, then half a dozen people I follow retweeted that tweet, and more retweeted those retweets, a Katamari-like snowball of awareness that encompassed nearly my entire tweetstream for a few minutes. This is breaking news in 2012, and how news gets broken: One person, somewhere, sees something and shares it. Once shared the dynamics of salience take over. Everything is shared according to its degree of perceived importance. Something unimportant, or important only to a very few, will not be shared widely. Something of immediate import to 22 million Australians will receive an almost immediate and universal response.

Twelve million Australians walk around with smartphones connected to mobile broadband and wifi, hyperconnected and sharing, hyperdistributing everything that comes their way and catches their fancy. It could be the report of a car accident, sighting of ticket inspectors at the train station, a brush with a television personality, or almost anything else. It happens all the time, everywhere. It’s a completely natural behavior, a form of gossip which has only recently been amplified to global scope by hyperconnectivity.

The national broadsheets (and indeed, newspapers everywhere) consider themselves threatened by the migration of the ‘rivers of gold’ advertising to specialty websites like Seek and Craigslist. They now repent of their decision to offer their news freely through their own websites – realizing that the aggregation of Internet eyeballs provides only a small percentage of the profitability of print, and will place themselves behind a locked door, opened only for a fee.

Newspapers will suddenly become invisible, but Australians will not care, because they will not notice. In the era of hyperconnectivity, the news does not come from newspapers, does not rely on reporters, has no editors, needs no printers or publishers. The news is simply what’s being shared by someone, somewhere. If that sounds banal, well, it is until something like a tsunami or a financial collapse or an unexpected moment of utter tenderness reminds us of the hegemony of salience.

That which is meaningful captures our eye. We share the significant, and if it is important enough, news comes and finds us. Everything else is habit. All of the ritual and regalia surrounding journalism, all of its traditions and practices, however venerable, are now meaningless in the specific even as they approach a universal application.

We may be drowned in observations – the price of the Age of Omniscience is to be aware of too much – but we do not rely a newspaper to tell us what is important, or interesting. We expect that information to come from our relations. They tell us ‘look here’ and we look.

None of this speaks to truth, of verifiable facts from reputable sources. It speaks instead to passion, and this militates against wisdom. Hyperconnectivity and hyperdistribution open the door to demagoguery, but no more than many a newspaper, baying for blood while banging the war drums: “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”

We are left where we started, but without the institutions that supported the amplification of ideas into policies and passions into prejudices. These we do ourselves, using the tool at hand – our mobiles – paired with the power of hyperdistribution. A mobile on its own is not enough. Twitter on its own is not enough. Bring the two together and the hybrid energy released gives us a permanent and growing situational awareness, but – without so much as an afterthought – it also blows down institutions we consider essential both to our democracy and our culture.

We can’t outsource the work of situational awareness to an institution, however constituted. Hyperempowerment means doing things for ourselves, using our extended and extensive capabilities to manage meaning and salience. We each filter for one another, we each forward matters of salience along to one another, and we each find things – because of who and where we are – which demand to be shared. Every one of us is now journalist, editor and publisher, and not in some lofty, theoretical sense, but in our actual, immediate practice. Every time we share something, we make news.

Making news was until recently a protected province, powerful and impregnable. Publishing was an artifact of the information asymmetries commonplace to all power structures before hyperconnectivity. Now hyperempowered, everyone outside the publisher knows more than the publisher, who suffers in a state of a relative ignorance, less aware and less connected to the world than the putative audience.

The hyperempowered can not be served up as an audience; they can only participate. They may choose to watch, but even viewing will not be a passive activity. They will connect and share and learn and act as suits their purpose. There is no institution, anywhere, just the actions of hyperconnected, hyperempowered individuals, hyperdistributing everything salient. This is not publishing, nor journalism, because it is not a job, simply an activity, an awareness of the moment extended across an entire planet now collapsed into a single point of connection. The global village has become the global nucleus.

This is not the end of people telling us what they think we should know, or believe. But it does represent the end of one form of that telling, an artifact of the time before the last half billion seconds. Before we were all connected. A newspaper is disconnected, isolated, and singular. We are none of these things, and find ourselves losing any connection with something that bears so little relation to what we have already become. The newspaper is an antique artifact from a past so recent it looks familiar, yet so alien we now come to wonder how it ever worked at all.

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.

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.

27 – #SPHERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 – #SHARE

Silence is not an innate skill among human beings. Quite the opposite. From time out of mind, our success has depended upon our ability to share everything we know with anyone who might need to know it. On the African savanna, sharing indicated the presence of predators, a sighting of a favoured plant, or the signs of an approaching thunderstorm. The more effectively we shared as individuals, the more successfully the group could prepare for and respond to any challenges. Sharing means survival. The forces of natural selection have favoured sharing, so we find ourselves at the end of a long line of people who simply could not shut up. Blessed are those who share, for their numbers will increase.

Sharing as a species hearkens back to our beginnings, and ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny: we can watch as sharing behaviors emerge in children. From our earliest moments, fresh from the womb, we begin to share ourselves. Babies move their arms and legs in syncopation to mother’s voice, dancing to her soothing tones. The infant freely offers up their internal, inchoate emotional state with smiles and gurgles and cries and screams, and continue sharing for the entire span of our lives.

Ask a small child to share a favoured toy — and prepare yourself for a battle of wills. Ask that same child to share the details of their day, then sit back as a stream-of-consciousness flow of associations, impressions and memories pours forth. We must be taught to share our things, yet must learn restraint when sharing our thoughts. Such is our need to speak our minds, keeping secrets requires almost superhuman reserves of willpower and fortitude.

In the beginning, we share with those most closely related to us: mother and father, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. As we grow into greater independence, capable of forging our own connections, we share with friends, neighbors, and classmates. By the time we reach adulthood, that circle of sharing extends out to colleagues, acquaintances, and the community.

Ten thousand years ago sharing reached its natural limits at the boundaries of tribal kinship. Five thousand years ago, the walls of the city would have framed our span. Five hundred years ago, we could write our thoughts into a book, send it to the printers, and see ourselves eventually shared throughout the world.

In the age of hyperconnectivity sharing becomes immediate, instantaneous, and universal. Everything we share always goes global, even if it only rarely becomes pervasive. We share ourselves freely, believing our sharing bound by the gravitational forces which have always dragged our thoughts back to earth, but everything has now become weightless photons, and travels without interruption at the speed of light. There is no barrier, anywhere — not even within ourselves.

The hyperconnected leak information, always sharing something. At a minimum we share our presence on the network, this being the first sin that leads to a multitude of transgressions, revelation by derivation: Presence becomes location. Location becomes movement. Movement becomes activity. Activity becomes intent. Everything, from barely anything at all.

Revelation is the common, persistent and continuous condition of the four-and-a-half-billion-and-counting hyperconnected. It is not that there is no privacy anymore; rather, the performance of any act becomes its broadcast, traced out in presence, and, once shared, drawn into a world of meanings attached to our actions. We neither surrendered our privacy nor had it taken away: privacy and connectivity are fundamentally oppositional. Satisfying both simultaneously has proven impossible.

Since we did not give up our privacy, we are not aware that it has vanished, except in those still somewhat rare but increasingly common moments when we become wholly visible to one another. We can generate a peculiar quality of light, where everyone is revealed, all the connections we assumed in innocence casting menacing shadows.

A telephone carrier knows where each of its subscribers are (or at least their mobiles) at every moment. Mobiles, aware of their location, share this information with various services, together with any other relevant information. This sharing expands our awareness. We can know when our friends approach, or a taxicab, or a potential employer. Sifting through this sharing, taking from it the bits most relevant to the present need, reveals the hidden. A recent example: Girls around Me.

Creepy on first sight (an obvious playground for stalkers) the deeper one looks, the more interesting it becomes. Why women? Why not footy fans, car hoons or budgerigar fanciers? Why not Jews? Or skinheads? Or anyone who in any way differs from me enough to present a threat? The shout that once alerted us to a predator on the African savannah has become an message on the screen of our smartphone.

No one need explicitly share themselves in order to be thus captured, qualified, filtered and portrayed. All becomes apparent from connections, associations, movements and activities. Like attracts like, and this reveals more than we would ever willingly provide. Connection is the only light required to reveal absolutely everything.

We find ourselves utterly exposed, sharing everything without hesitation and without volition. We are completely known but do not yet know this. We believe we encompass mystery, that something can be withheld. The space for secrets has grown miniscule, as every act, connected, shared and broadcast globally, tells others more about us than we dare admit to ourselves.

Believing ourselves shy, we nonetheless desire to know the minds of others, longing to learn who to connect with around the topics of importance to us, and who we must avoid in order to preserve ourselves. Threat and opportunity: human drives have changed little in ten thousand years, but now everyone hears our moments of crisis and triumph. These moments act as beacons, allowing us to find one another.