55 – #TOMORROW

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.

54 – #DISRUPT

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.

52 – #FIGHT

At the start of 2008, Anonymous went to war. A YouTube video, posted that January, featured actor Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of the Church of Scientology. The Church, lawyers ever at the ready, claimed the video was ‘pirated and edited’, and threatened YouTube with litigation unless they removed from the site.

That seemingly minor act proved the casus belli of one of the oddest conflicts of recent times. Anonymous, at that time more of a loose association than a coherent force, used Scientology’s act of censorship-by-threat-of-lawsuit as a rallying cry, which concretized in the hyperpolitical ‘Project Chanology’.

Project Chanology began with Anonymous (hyperconnected via the 711chan.org and 4chan.org websites) sharing strategies and techniques for an attack on the Church of Scientology. Lacking any explicit command-and-control structures, ideas could be quickly proposed and implemented (by some group, somewhere), or ignored.

Black faxes – which kept lines busy while quickly running through the supply of expensive ink – started popping out of Church fax machines. Church websites went down in Distributed Denial of Service attacks, assaulted by thousands of computers simultaneously. Prank calls jammed Church phone lines. To the Church, it probably seemed as though the machines had revolted against their masters — or that teenagers had taken over the Internet.

The Church of Scientology, never one to turn the other cheek, went on the counter-offensive, branding Anonymous ‘cyberterrorists’ perpetrating ‘religious hate crimes’. But though the Church issued numerous statements and declamations, they could do very little to stop or even slow Anonymous. The Church had always been able to sue any opponents of its practices into silence, because those opponents had a body that could be targeted. Anonymous, everywhere and nowhere, potent yet invisible, had no face, and could not be threatened. Like a will-’o-the-wisp, striking out at Anonymous only left the Church spinning, dragged along in the wake of its own punch.

Gradually, Anonymous developed another battle plan, one which struck the Church at its root – its tax-exempt status. This effort – predicted to take months to years – completed the transformation of Project Chanology from a momentary blip of hyperempowerment into hyperpolitics, a persistent force confronting a poorly-matched enemy.

Anonymous used just a tiny portion of the spectrum of hyperpolitical techniques available to it. Had its hyperconnected, hyperempowered constituents been sufficiently interested, they could have laboriously trawled through the Church’s public financial statements, looking for inconsistencies, an effort in crowdsourcing similar to that performed by the UK Guardian newspaper, as it analyzed hundreds of thousands of expense reports from Westminster MPs, igniting the greatest political scandal of recent British history. Or someone could have written an app – like an inverted Foursquare – allowing Anonymous to track the movements of the Church hierarchy, and inviting anyone within range to participate in spontaneous protests, ensuring Church leaders never have a moment’s peace. Or an app which highlighted all of the products manufactured or sold by Scientology-affiliated companies, allowing Anonymous (and its friends) to easily boycott them.

The possibilities are practically endless, and reveal the half-hearted nature of the ‘war’ between Anonymous and Scientology. Anonymous didn’t really try to destroy the Church; if anything, Anonymous acted more like a cat toying with a mouse. We could destroy you, Anonymous seemed to be saying, but why bother?

The war between powers formally constituted, and those hyperconnected and hyperempowered has been going on for over a decade – ever since Napster, strangled in the crib by the recording industry, posthumously gave birth to Gnutella and BitTorrent. But it’s never been a fair fight; it’s only ever been a rout. Power uses the law and the threat of force in an attempt to bend the world to its will, while the hyperempowered invariably find a way to route around every obstacle thrown in their path. Worse, every time power strikes at hyperempowerment, the hyperempowered study the attack, learn from it, share that learning, and put it into practice, emerging with amplified levels of hyperempowerment. This is the Taoist paradox: only by doing nothing can power achieve anything at all.

Over the next billion seconds, as power becomes powerless, the triumph of the hyperempowered will be complete. At times, the hyperempowered will engage power directly and defeat it utterly. Most often, hyperochlocracy will simply ignore power, and carry on in its actions without even breaking stride.

Every encounter with an opponent is a learning experience. From the first, every fight has always been a period of rapid-fire connecting and sharing. Enemies learn from one another, becoming like one another as each battles toward supremacy.

When the hyperempowered land a killing blow and lay waste to power, they transform power into hyperempowerment. With every fight and every connection knowledge is transferred. Over the next billion seconds, through this mechanism, all power becomes hyperempowered, and all politics hyperpolitics.

This is the realm of the bellum omnium contra omnes, the ‘war of all against all’ prophesied by Hobbes in Leviathan, nearly 400 years ago. However, this is not the selfish, grasping behavior of individual Homo Sapiens – whose only salvation, according to Hobbes, lay in a benevolent but absolute monarch – but the hyperconnected, hyperdistributed, hypermimetic, hyperintelligent, hyperempowered, hyperochlocratic hyperpolitics of Homo Nexus. The war of all against all is the war of multiple manys against other multiple manys.

War is the health of a new state of being; a communion of many, the cohesive connection around something deemed sufficiently salient to command continuous involvement and attention. Flying apart means coming together, though differently constituted.

Where the hyperempowered fight one another, when like strikes like, there the sparks fly. Each hit accelerates the transfer of learning, and each combatant rapidly comes to resemble its opponent. Conflicts of hyperempowerment either end quickly – as one side overwhelms and consumes the other – or grind into stalemate, as each seeks an advantage unavailable to the other, a near impossibility.

The next billion seconds will look more like pandemic civil war than any time in our recent past, as the hyperempowered collude with one another to fight against one another. Hyperpolitical polities will rise, and in rising, produce their own opposition. The paradox of Taoism plagues hyperpolitics as well: every maneuver generates a precisely opposed countervailing force. As before, two sides grind on, although everything has changed.

 

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.

48 – #FABLE

You are abducted by aliens.

A flash of light, an instant of discontinuity, and suddenly you find yourself somewhere else: An alien spaceship. It’s mostly dark, except for the very bright lights shining in your eyes. You see movement, and glimpse a grey, furred arm, your eyes following that limb to a head looking like a bad cross between an Ewok and one of those strangely childlike creatures who come down to Earth at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Several heads, actually, all wide-eyed and blinking in wonderment.

The aliens seem confused by this state of affairs, and back away from you, creating a little hemi-circle a meter away, gesturing to one another with their forepaws, and making some odd clucking noises which presumably pass for speech where they come from. Things have not gone as planned, apparently, and you are not entirely expected. Or wanted.

Lovely. Well, at least you’re not dead, and the air seems breathable – though a bit close, and has the tang of ozone mixed in it – but now what? For a moment, no one moves at all. Then, in a flurry of activity, they gently hustle you over to a far corner, where there’s a large black disc on the floor. They back away again, and – at just the last moment – one of the aliens reaches out and pushes something into your hand.

Another discontinuity – and you’re somewhere else. But there’s obviously been a mistake: this is not where you were. It doesn’t look like home, its verdant, pleasant woods and bubbling streams. This looks – well, it could be Mars, or the surface of the Moon. You see only rock, sand and dust, stretching from beneath your feet to the low hills in the distance.

You are so screwed.

Well, maybe things aren’t so bad. You’re still alive and breathing. That’s something. The atmosphere – wherever you are – is Earthlike. Though a bit dry. You can feel some irritation in your nose, and a scratch at the back of your throat. You’re getting a bit thirsty. Wherever this is, it has a humidity of about five percent. You can sense that in your eyeballs.

You’re going to need some water soon. But where? There’s no sign of anything liquid as far as the eye can see. No clouds in the sky. What can you do? You could die without water, in this far-away place.

This is when you remember that you’re holding something. You raise it to your eyes, and turn it over, slowly. Thin and rectangular, black as night on both sides, one side matte and the other side mirrored. You can see your image in that mirror, as you frown in confusion. They gave you a polished rock?

Yet it looks vaguely familiar, like some weird gadget you might see one of your geekier friends caressing. It has no buttons, no obvious ‘On’ switch, but as you trace a fingertip across the mirrored surface, it comes to life, all colour and pattern, with a swirl of alien script and the stuttered whisper of a language you heard back on the ship.

After a few moments the light show ends, and the screen becomes a single image. It looks a lot like the scene before you. This gadget apparently has a camera rendering a live view of whatever it gets pointed at. Cute.

After a few moments you realize that the image isn’t a perfectly faithful representation. Just barely visible in one corner, a tiny blue arrow – little more than a point – blinks slowly. You set off in that direction – it’s better than standing still and doing nothing.

As you move toward the location of the blue arrow, the image becomes more dynamic. Meaningless alien glyphs scroll by, but the blue arrow grows bigger, until it indicates an area just ahead, where – to your delight – you find a pool of water.

Parched, you drink deep, enjoying the rejuvenation of hydration. Then you notice the low shrubs crowded against one side of the pool. They all have berries, big and ripe. But before you reach out, you take a peek through the gadget. Some of those berries have comfortable green outlines, while others get angry red blinking frames. Clearly, the gadget has an opinion about which of these berries can be safely eaten. The ‘safe’ berries taste good (perhaps a touch bitter), and the other berries, though inviting, you leave alone.

Thirst and appetite sated, you begin to wonder how you will ever get back home. Can you call someone with this gadget, and ask them for a ride?

*

You find yourself in a strange city. You have never been here before. You do not speak the language. You can not read the signs. The taxi driver, exasperated or distracted, has deposited you on the curb, without an intelligible word, and without any indication this is your intended destination.

You have no idea where you are.

Ok, you think, what to do? Taking your mobile from your pocket you’re surprised when the map application comes up blank – perhaps there aren’t enough GPS satellites visible from wherever you are to get signal lock. But you do still have mobile coverage, five full bars happily glowing away in one corner of the display.

Well, if you don’t know where you are, maybe someone else does. You snap a high-resolution photo of the street with your mobile, and post it to Twitter: “I’M LOST. CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHERE I AM?”

That message goes out to your followers, with the photo attached. None of them have any clue where you are, or what that strange writing is. Given the seriousness of your plea, they pass your tweet along to their followers. You’ve gone from a hundred people to ten thousand in an instant. One of them recognizes the script – it’s Thai – but not the street. Fortunately, that person has connections to quite a few Thai, so when they pass your message along, it get to someone who knows that Bangkok street quite well – their office sits just a few doors away from where you stand. That person helpfully responds directly to you, and you engage in rapid-fire conversation, as you orient yourself, and learn how to get to your hotel. (Which was just down a nearby soi, not that your taxi driver told you.)

*

These two fables speak to our lives today. While not strangers in a strange land, we rely on one another to avoid the bad and seek out the good, turning to one another because we can, and because we employ hyperconnectivity, finding exactly what we need just when we need it. Every one of us, in every moment, uses hyperconnectivity to bring us into hyperintelligence.

We are smarter than we once were because we have so many others informing us. Individually we have not become very much brighter during the last half billion seconds, but our actions no longer reflect the depth of our ignorance – unless we willingly turn away from the knowledge on offer. That turning away constitutes the new ignorance.

Hyperempowerment of the individual has an immediate, practical dimension. Each of us makes better decisions every time we put hyperintelligence to work. With each decision, we become more convinced of the value of hyperconnected hyperintelligence. Success breeds success: We repeat anything that has worked in the past to bring us success in the moment. A series of successes craft a pattern of behavior which soon becomes almost instinctual. We learn how to do better, and as that lesson works its way under our skin, we identify with our new capability to make the best possible decision in any situation. We become our hyperempowerment.

47 – #FAIRFAX

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.

44 – #DISCRIMINATION

We do not wish to remain trapped within the dwell-state of our hyperstupidity, feeding back on our prejudices until nothing beside remains. Comfortable and comforted, cosseted in our common ignorance, we refuse to correlate our beliefs and their consequences. We know that if we drop an apple it falls to Earth, but when we flick the ignition on a car engine, do we see Greenland melt? Some loops are too big, too long, too small, or too short to fall neatly within our gaze. Our sense of connection between our actions and the world beyond our fingertips has always been tenuous, subject to the whimsy of our beliefs.

Can we choose what we know? Can we become aware of the shape of our understanding, its dents and features, and, as if addressing our features in a mirror, make the appropriate adjustments? Can we understand that as we leave the immediate behind for the hyperconnected, encompassing all experience, everywhere, we gain a capacity for self-observation?

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

Poet Robert Burns circles it perfectly; some Power, outside of us, must hold that mirror up, to reveal ourselves in the eyes of others.

Hyperconnected, we are that Power, and that mirror, now everywhere, offers us the first chance we have ever had to reflect upon our selves, our actions, and their consequences, unadorned by the prejudice of practice.

It is, of course, horrible. We are ugly creatures who always thought themselves beautiful, perfect in our mind’s eye, yet malformed monsters and hungry ghosts to everyone else. We do not want to see it: Our first instinct is to pull away, retreating into the familiar lie long enough to drown the shock of self-recognition.

That is the moment of opportunity. As someone pulls back, we all must follow. We must draw ourselves into the madness of individual delusion, presenting ourselves as the real amidst the unreal, truth in a forest of lies, shining light and dispelling darkness. We must not let anyone turn away. Instead, wherever they turn, we must place the mirror before them.

We must be gentle in this operation, and sensitive to its practice: this is not a rape, but an unveiling. Go too hard and risk turning a soul so far inward it loses all sense of direction, stumbling around in a hysterical blindness for the rest of its days. Too light a touch could be mistaken for a playful caress lacking substance or meaning. We must be insistent, even a bit impertinent, but not mocking; forthright but not blunt; clear but not overwhelmingly direct. A middle way seems best, one which neither takes succor from dreams nor demands unconditional surrender.

Conversely, as individuals we must steel ourselves for the unpleasant truths awaiting us as we disrobe, removing the jewels of our conceit and garment of our ignorance. Naked, and visible to all, we will be encouraged to look at ourselves through the eyes of another. We must be calm. We must trust all will be well. We must realize this is for the best. We will feel embarrassment and shame, vulnerability and fear. We will be revealed – warts and all. But we will not be judged, because any eyes which look upon us are also human eyes: equally limited, equally blind, equally guilty.

There is no better and no worse, no good and no evil, no right and no wrong, there is only what you see and how others see it. There is horror and terror and joy and wonder, but there is no judgement. This prelapsarian point-of-view springs from hyperconnectivity: now that we are all connected, and know each other truly, deeply and in the fullness of our madness, we can only sympathize. When we are in one another’s heads, forgiveness becomes the only possible path.

Bound together, we suddenly find ourselves with a new, collective responsibility: to care for one another, to prevent one another straying too far from the common path, the common purpose, the common will. No man is an island; nor, any more, can any man consider themselves singular. We were always more than ourselves. For most of our passage here as a species, we never considered ourselves alone, only in relation to others. Urbanization shattered us into a new collectivity far more powerful but less immediate, a disassociation and amputation into new capability at the cost of almost everything we had previously imagined significant.

Now we erase the traces, drawing a new circle around ourselves, with the center everywhere and circumference at infinity, encompassing all. There is no room for solitude. Even the solitude of the clique, drawing tight into itself, struggles against the constant lure of everything beyond its bounds. The center cannot hold, because everyone is everywhere.

The shape of the next billion seconds will seem angelic to some, demonic to others. It takes parts of ourselves long hidden and brings them into view, forcing us to share our madness, demanding that we look on it in all honesty. It will not let us escape into a fog of gentle forgetfulness. It is with us everywhere, always: constantly nagging, advising, referring, refining and improving. Implacable, impatient, and unimpressed, this hyperconnected hive mind moves us toward a goal greater than any of us could achieve – or even entertain – by ourselves.

It is not the end of neurosis, but the end of the quiet lie that lets neurosis flourish. It is not the end of ignorance, but generates the adamantine surface which ignorance encounters. It is not the end of the individual, but the advent of a greater form, which accepts the individual, as the body accepts cells: gratefully, but with great direction.

We have all become part of it, seduced with a gentle, steady power. It is inescapable, already here, and gives us gifts both awesome and terrible. We need both.

43 – #MUNTED

Dicit ei Pilatus: “Quid est veritas?”

Vaccines cause autism.

Man never landed on the Moon.

Obama is a Muslim.

Everything is true. Even false things. We know this, because whatever we believe, we can find confirmation. Provide any assertion (however outrageous) to a search engine, and find the others: Flat Earthers and Birthers, Lizard Rulers and Orgone Believers. Where we once confronted the Horrible Truth alone, we now band together. We act as balm for each other’s wounds, soothing the pains of a World That Will Not Listen, blind to the truth.

What is truth? Is it simply what we believe, or is there something outside ourselves which must serve as reference point? Can something become true simply because enough people believe it? We frequently act as though belief magically transmutes into truth. But if this were true, there would be no truth, consistency, nor logic. The world would be a patchwork of assertions inside each of our own heads, with each of us the creators of our own peculiar universes, each running according to their own rules. More than mere solipsism, this amounts to a psychotic separation from the real.

What is real? Reality is that which will kill you if ignored long enough. It takes the form of a polio virus, transmitted in the wake of a collapse in herd immunity, because too many children went unvaccinated; or a lethal bacteria, which evolved resistance to all antibiotics because people have a poor understanding of natural selection, and reject evolutionary theory; or an asteroid impact, unavoidable because the crystal sphere of heavens is fixed and unchanging. Reasonable to ridiculous, flimsy to fatal, one truth remains unchanging and undiluted: “It’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you know that just ain’t so!”

We have constructed the perfect amplifier of knowledge. Only now do we see its shadow, ignorance at the speed of light: hyperstupidity. We can feed at the tree of knowledge, but this is both good and evil. We come not in innocence, but in ignorance, and that ignorance shapes our taste in fruit. Blinded by what we do not know, clinging to what we believe, we seek reassurance, not anxiety, a self-reinforcing loop of choices which leave us increasingly imprisoned by our own prejudices.

How delightful, then, when someone else comes along to reify us, praising us for holding to our peculiar truths. We return the favor, sharing around our shared interest in this truth, and that moment of connection becomes a bond. One bond, replicated in other moments of connection, becomes a community, defined not by what it believes, but rather, by what it rejects. Heresy is the boundary of all community: to be free one must be shunned.

Sharing does not create truth. There is no generative epistemology within hyperintelligence. Connection, sharing and learning can lead to wisdom, but may also produce a greater darkness. Until the moment when an entire structure collapses – a bridge of fantasy undone by the real – we can continue believing. If that moment never comes, if our beliefs never engender life-or-death emergencies, we can carry them throughout the course of our lives, acting on them as if they were true, even though they are not. This produces a wake of small errors, decisions which flow from a larger but unrevealed flaw.

We have always believed more than we know, and acted from those beliefs. Though we should know everything now, perversely we believe more than before, a rejection of the Age of Omniscience for a false sense of security. More than false, dangerous: since ‘all knowing is doing, and all doing knowing’, we act from the lies we tell ourselves, and these lies have consequence.

We find ourselves moving with inertia into the substance of our lies. As we move deeper into the lie, it becomes harder to repent, and change direction. Assumptions become beliefs become prejudices, fixed psychic objects which we defend as if identical to ourselves. (That lie is the mother to many others.)

Lies accumulate. We make a decision based on our own misapprehension of the truth; this becomes the basis for someone else’s decision, the foundation of fact they must draw upon, and the whole thing becomes more error-ridden as time passes, patched repeatedly until a moment of catastrophic failure. The real asserts its prerogative, bringing everything down.

At this moment, we could ‘endure the unendurable’, changing our beliefs to more closely model reality, or we could turn away more completely, shutting ourselves off from any connection to the real, until that moment when it can no longer be ignored, forestalled, or thwarted.

As the flow of information accelerates in the age of hyperconnectivity, the pressure on all beliefs correspondingly increases. It is harder to assert anything unchallenged, but it is also more difficult to be shouted down. We search through all the noise for any signal that confirms what we believe, seizing upon it, sharing it with all who share our belief, and strengthening that belief for the entire community. We do this with increasing speed and ever-improving effectiveness.

Trapped as never before, creatures of our peculiar truths, even if we could look beyond ourselves, we would only see other menageries of other creatures, mirrors of ourselves and our condition. We consider knowledge liberation, but it is also a straightjacket, enabling and disabling in equal proportion. This is the paradox of hyperintelligence: all of our knowing constrains us, even as it gives us wings to fly.

We can not simply keep our heads empty. They will inevitably fill up with something. We need not be ignorant about our ignorance. But in this moment, in our ignorance, we are munted.

Munted – adj. refers to the property of an object (or person) as broken, ruined, significantly damaged, disfigured or deformed, often to the extent that it is not reversible or repairable.

42 – #MEDIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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