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.

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.

 

50 – #FOCUS


The state reserves for itself the monopoly on force. Only the state has the right to restrain you, to strike you, to detain you, or kill you. When citizens restrain, strike, detain or kill one another, the state steps in, lest its monopoly become meaningless. The thin blue line separating us from mere anarchy, state power delimits the outer boundaries for personal behavior.

What happens, then, when the state can not be trusted to act in your best interest? When the monopoly on violence has been colonized by interests incongruous with the public, because of corruption (it is always, inevitably, corruption) what recourse do citizens possess? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Atomized individuals can not withstand the unified and focused efforts of state power. Divide and conquer. The Stasi, the quintessence of a modern security state, had a full third of the population spying on the other two-thirds, an infiltration so profound it left East German culture incapable of anything more organized than collapse.

Rarely do people willingly assent to their dehumanization and final atomization. Resistance, continuous and pervasive, accompanies any closure in the gaps which interrupt the smooth functioning of power. The state has an arsenal of its own technologies to smooth its way: fear first, then the gentle seductions of material comfort. You will obey, or else. Do as you’re told – and be richly rewarded.

Unable to reach out in solidarity to others similarly threatened by a powerful state, the individual nearly always succumbs, with the remainder – the zealots – easy to contain, control and sterilize. Every state has its prisoners of conscience, refusing both the admonishments and blandishments of power. The smartest states have marginalized this final few; the worst made martyrs of them, sowing the seeds of revolution.

The state has lost its power to atomize its citizens.

All state power, however constituted, has come under threat from hyperconnectivity. Individuals feeling the pressure of state power no longer think of themselves as alone, any more than anyone thinks of themselves as alone in any situation (provided sufficient connectivity). We instinctively turn to one another to connect and share, to learn and do. We do this in every situation, but when we do this in response to state power, the result inevitably takes on a hyperpolitical dimension.

The fine citizens of New York City, growing tired of the ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy of New York’s finest – which disproportionately targets minorities – use hyperconnectivity to reframe the relationship between police power and themselves. Using a smartphone app, citizens are invited to record every stop-and-frisk event they see on the city’s streets. The reported information is immediately hyperdistributed to everyone else running the smartphone app; people within a particular neighborhood instantly know when that noxious police activity is taking place, and precisely where it’s happening.

A stop-and-frisk action, which might once have been witnessed by just a few, can now quickly gather a crowd of hundreds, or thousands, a hyperochlocracy facilitated by hyperconnectivity. The state requires a degree of secrecy for its smooth operation. Exposed, the police lose much of their power, not simply because others can avoid these frisky cops, but because the attention they attract in the performance of their duty directly subtracts from their effectiveness.

This app takes the hyperconnected population of New York City – well over half of whom carry a smartphone – and creates a platform for sharing a very specific type of information, leading to a detailed situational awareness around a particular type of police activity. The app is the focusing agent, concentrating the attention of the mob, amplifying something mostly invisible into salience. A technology of hyperpolitics, the app supports the coherence necessary for a moment of hyperempowerment to extend indefinitely. In that extension, the momentary attention of hyperochlocracy becomes the pushback and renegotiation of power that typifies hyperpolitics.

Across the next billion seconds, all relations between the hyperconnected and state power will echo this form. The singular and atomized individual has been obsolesced by the hyperconnected and hyperpolitical, a process of natural selection that has seen the state finally breed a form of power entirely beyond its own ability to control, manage, or even understand.

State power serves to protect the corrupt, even where this conflicts directly with the interests of the state as the preserver of the lives of its citizens. The Chinese know from repeated scandals involving the tainting of the country’s food supply (infant formula contaminated with melamine, pork with beef flavouring sold as beef, etc.) that they need to have a healthy distrust of any official inspections or protections proffered by the state.

In the absence of state protection, the hyperconnected turn to themselves, connecting, sharing, learning and doing. One smartphone app, the China Survival Guide, tracks all of the ongoing food scandals, while a website, “Throw It Out The Window”, recently succumbed in the face of overwhelming traffic. Chinese find or create these tools, put them to work, and if they succeed, share them around, hyperdistributing their expertise, converting that into hyperintelligence – individuals pooling their experiences to amplify the experience of everyone everywhere – putting that knowledge to work to save themselves from poisoning.

Hyperpolitics neatly fills all gaps where state power has proven itself fundamentally ineffective. The Chinese can not trust the government on food safety, but eating clean food is very important to the Chinese, so this salience becomes an organizing principle that drives people to connect, share, learn and do persistently. Connecting is the necessary and wholly sufficient first act; all else follows naturally from it, driven at first by self-preservation, quickly amplified into hyperempowerment through the efforts of a billion hyperconnected Chinese.

The fertile ground for the emergence of hyperpolitics can be found anywhere the state meets its citizens. Where the state fails or oversteps, that emergence, amplified by salience, happens nearly instantly. The state has been contained, constrained as never before, hemmed in at every point, measured, observed, recorded, reported, analyzed and assessed.

No state is smart enough, strong enough, or fast enough to counter this force. Every time we focus, the state becomes a little less potent.

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.

41 – #MOB

Certain transgressions carry a surprisingly high price.

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

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

It was all recorded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call it the Age of Omnipotence.

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

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

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

 

40 – #MUTINY

Strike!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

34 – #DISGUISE

“Let’s hear it for the vague blur!”

In A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick’s dystopian science fiction novel of addiction and redemption, the protagonist – a drug enforcement agent – wears a disguise to prevent anyone from recognizing (and thereby betraying) him. The ‘scramble suit’ creates an everyman projection; in place of a single person, the whole population is represented:

As the computer looped through its banks, it projected every conceivable eye color, hair color, shape and type of nose, formation of teeth, configuration of facial bone structure – the entire shroudlike membrane took on whatever physical characteristics were projected at any nanosecond, then switched to the next…

Looking upon the scramble suit reveals nothing of the person within. Even the voice, transformed in real-time, splices together the words of people of every age and from every culture, resulting in speech full of meaning but lacking any identifiable characteristic.

Overloading ourselves with particulars, we represent nothing. Preference becomes impossible, a meaningless attempt to empty the oceans with a sieve. When everything about us is everything, we become invisible.

Therein lies our escape from the land of the shadow.

Everything that we share in common with others subtracts from our specificity. We connect and share and refine our sharing, to find our interior lives leaking away, expressed and examined and critiqued, but no longer ours. With the loss of privacy comes the loss of uniqueness. We are not defined by what we share, but rather, by what we withhold. It is the things we will not say which make us significant. Hard, secret, and often cruel, these secret stones are the making of us. Creatures of language, we are closest to that which we dare not utter.

If we are to have any of ourselves left in a hyperconnected world, we must learn to keep quiet, drawing lines around our lives, determining which parts we will choose to expose and have bleached to whiteness in the intense light cast by four and a half billion others, deciding which parts we will keep close, telling no one, not even our closest relations, lest these secrets find their way into their sharing and thereby undermine all our efforts.

The simple quiet of the Zen master provides inadequate defense against the mechanisms of the age of omniscience, where actions speak louder than words. Tirelessly watching, our machines faithfully construct their simulacra from a study of our movements; the only silence they could not penetrate would be the absolute stillness of the yogi who holds a single pose for years. Everything else points to a truth we dare not speak, but which speaks for us.

Thoroughly surrounded, we must find another passage to freedom, blinding the machines in a surfeit of light. We need to maintain connections not with a hundred and fifty others, nor even with ten thousand, but with ten million, sending messages to all of them as frequently as our channels allow, so that no pattern can be discerned within the overwhelming flood of connection. Where data can be abstracted, analyzed and applied to the simulacra, there it must be amplified, and shared as broadly as possible, without regard to recipient. Everything we say must be shouted from the rooftops, into as many ears as will hear.

This is our scramble suit: If we say everything to everyone, we say nothing of importance to anyone in particular. It must be this way. We can not simply dissemble, pretend to be other than what we are, because our actions expose our connections. We must be connected to everyone in order to move beyond the reach of the simulacrum. Hyperconnectivity is more than a condition; it is a necessity, stripping away our privacy even as it hands us the tool to restore it.

Each of us, receiving a continuous stream of communication from millions of others, would immediately lose all meaning and all contact, it being impossible to discern a whispered signal within a roar of noise. But within ourselves, in the never-revealed sanctum of the soul (and the soul’s little machines), we keep a list of those whom we choose to attend. These communications are the ones which we interpret and acknowledge. We assign importance, and so construct the screen to prevent the light we generate from dazzling us.

The filter between ourselves and our closest relations lies within ourselves, not out on Facebook or Google or Twitter or in any other system where it becomes fodder for our simulacra. It must lie within, part of our essential self, because who we know is who we are. When a simulacra faithfully models who we know, we have become simulations, programmable and easily controlled.

The joy of sharing is immediate, evident, and completely natural. Amplified across the entire planet sharing also becomes its shadow: hidden and artificial. The way down is the way forward, into an overwhelming and chaotic construction of connectivity which purposely surrenders any extrinsic meaning in order to preserve its occult intent.

Let us then embrace noise and randomness, seeing them not as problematic but as beneficial, the keys to our release. Noise resists analysis, and can not be used to fortify simulacra. Randomness confounds computers, providing no clear picture, only a Rorschach-like exploration of the interiority of the observer, not the observed.

Turning the tables on the observer, we will use our scramble suits as mirrors, turning them to face the shadow machinery of simulacra, which, lacking real data, will feedback upon their own inbuilt hypotheses, producing monstrous projections, a carnival funhouse utterly divorced from reality. What they look for they will find, but it will always be a phantom, the exteriorization of the observer’s own desires and fears, a hall of mirrors filled with hungry ghosts.

We must connect. We are compelled to share. We must no longer discriminate: Everything for everyone, everywhere. If they know us, they will listen; if not, they will thank us for the disguise.

32 – #SHARP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


30 – #SEEN

Everyone hates ticket inspectors. Standing just beside the turnstiles, they carefully examine every presented chit for validity, and if you somehow fail to pass muster, you’ll be called upon to explain yourself. You might end up with an expensive citation – as once happened to me, aboard a Sydney bus where I had meant to dip my ticket in the ticket machine twice, but, because I’d only dipped once, received a $110 fine. Ouch.

If you’re doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear from a ticket inspector — or so the saying goes. Still, so many of us have little idea of whether we’re wholly in the right at any point in time (I had no idea I had to dip my ticket twice until I got fined) we tend to avoid close observation. No one is innocent. Everyone has something to hide. Hiding is the natural response; the ticket inspectors know this, placing themselves in difficult-to-avoid positions, monitoring the gates and doorways which shape the flow of bodies. As we pass through the checkpoint, and see an unlucky few people receiving citations, we feel a surge of sympathy – there but for the grace of God.

That sympathetic anguish easily bridges the gap of relevance to become a shared moment, a warning to all who might follow in your footsteps. My friend Matthew had just such an encounter while riding the tram in Melbourne, and posted it to Twitter:

Tram inspectors sighted on Collins st - at the Spencer st end.
#publicserviceannouncement

That self-tagged ‘public service announcement’ reached quite a number of people – all 1544 of Matthew’s followers on Twitter, and the tens of thousands connected to them, if they chose to forward that information along. Matthew’s casual moment of sharing produced a much broader awareness of the activities of those ticket inspectors — whose power of surprise had been thwarted from the moment Matthew sent his update. Exposed, inspectors can be avoided. Knowing they lie in wait, people will choose different trams, exit through different gates, avoiding their critical gaze. All of this followed from a casual and almost insignificant act, sharing amplified by hyperconnectivity.

If those fines had been set terrifically high – thousands of dollars – Melbourne’s population of four million would soon be drowning in sightings of ticket inspectors. People would have sufficient motivation to keep those inspectors under very close surveillance. Every sighting would be shared, every movement becoming common knowledge.

Attention paid to something is commensurate with its perceived threat – or benefit. When a lot of attention gets paid to something, and those observations become broadly shared, it creates ‘situational awareness’. Everyone knows as much as needed to keep themselves out of trouble, because everyone is watching for everyone else.

When drug-sniffing dogs show up at Sydney’s rail stations, many people share warning messages – the fines and penalties for infractions being so severe. Protesters throughout the world use text messaging, Twitter and custom tools like Sukey to keep track of police movements against them. In the London riots of August 2011, BlackBerry Messenger was the favored communication tool of looters, who shared information about the most unpoliced areas to rob. Sharing has consequences, acting as a force in its own right, establishing a zone of influence where other powers, however potent, have difficulties.

In a world where everyone, hyperconnected, shares everything of interest with anyone who shares that interest, it has become impossible to operate in secret, beyond view. The possibility of invisibility has been supplanted by a new ‘age of omniscience’, where anyone can know anything that’s happening, anywhere, provided they generate sufficient interest in it. The secret police have been surrounded and exposed by a hyperconnected polity framing their every movement with a hailstorm of sharing. Everything once hidden is now shouted from the rooftops.

The surveillance state of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has mutated into the sousveillant mobs of the Arab Spring, using hyperconnectivity and sharing to build situational awareness and thereby defend themselves against the monopoly on force which is the prerogative of the state. Even when the technology of those networks falls away – as when former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shut down all of the nation’s mobile and Internet providers – the human networks forged in shared moments of sharing persist and strengthen. Technology amplifies and extends, but is not the essence of the network, which remains entirely human. People always find other ways to share what they know, from scrawled graffiti to repurposed billboards to chains of whispers. There is no censor, anywhere, when everyone at every point around the censor is fully prepared to share what the censor would withhold.

SUN Microsystems co-founder John Gilmore once quipped that ‘networks regard censorship as damage, and find a route around it’. The wires and radio waves of the network know nothing of censorship, but the people connected through them draw upon all of their resourcefulness to stay one step ahead of the censor, constantly probing and testing the limits of sharing . Wherever people are sufficiently connected, they will route around the censor, sharing everything of importance, whether media (to the frustration of copyright holders everywhere), secrets (the bane of governments), or anything else deemed taboo. Nothing can be kept out of reach in the digital realm; everything is copied and shared as widely as needed.

The age of omniscience confounds power and produces a conservative reaction which seeks to rein in the reach of the networks, but that could only be effective if the physical network were the source of the age of omniscience. It is not. We are. We have learned something new about how to share what we consider important: we distribute it so widely that it becomes a pervasive part of our awareness. Human behavior has changed, wrought by sharing amplified by hyperconnectivity, and in that change we discover a capacity for a universal awareness.

29 – #SCREEN

Checking my email one morning, I found two messages with very nearly the same subject lines: “FYI: Google Begins Testing Its Augmented Reality Glasses” reads one, while the other simply identifies itself as “Google Project Glass”. Both emails concern the search giant’s efforts to develop eyeglasses which project an overlaid data display, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s view in the Terminator series of films. Both pointed to a YouTube video demonstrating how the product might work in the real world. After watching the video, I shared a link on my Twitter feed, so all 28,000 individuals following me now know about ‘Project Glass’. If they hadn’t heard about it already from somewhere else.

As they probably had.

My two friends emailing me reside on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Dan in Boston, Philippe in the Canary Islands. They do not know each other, and it seems unlikely they will ever meet. Yet both of them know me well enough to know that I’d like to read something about Project Glass. Years of sharing have forged the bonds of relationship around shared interests, which include an abiding interest in virtual reality technologies such as Google’s experiment in ‘heads-up-displays’. Neither of them needed to consider whether I’d be interested in such an article; they knew without thinking, because years of experience (23 in Dan’s case, 15 for Philippe) have taught them everything they need to know about me to make them confident enough to hit the ‘send’ button. Both do — within a few hours of one another.

Even if I had no access to the Web, if I didn’t obsessively check my news feeds for anything new and interesting, if I didn’t have nearly the eight thousand people I follow on Twitter feeding me things that interest them, I would have learned about Project Glass, and I would have learned about it within a few hours of it hitting the wires. I am too well connected to too many people who know my interests for something like this to pass me by. The news would enter the network of individuals who know the individuals I know, and would be forwarded along, like the baton in a relay race, making its way from hand to hand until it found its way to me. Which is precisely what happened – though the New York Times accelerated this process somewhat by publishing an article for its millions of readers. But should the Times have been silent, I would have heard through someone, somewhere, who had heard it from someone else, somewhere else, who heard it from someone they knew. And so on.

This is no less true for any one of us. We go out in search of the things that interest us, but it’s just as likely that those things will flow to us through our network of relationships built from shared moments around shared interests. We no longer need to seek out the news – news comes and finds us. Each of us sits at the center point of a vast network of individuals, every one of whom, constantly on the lookout for any new shiny thing to catch their eye, shares a stream of novelty.

If everything every one of the hundred-and-fifty we know well came to our immediate attention, that would be difficult to digest. If we tried to take in everything shared by the ten thousand who know well those we know well, we’d be overwhelmed. And if we tried to encompass everything of note to the million who know well the ten thousand who know well those we know well, we’d immediately immolate, vaporized by too much light.

We are already directly connected. We don’t need better connections. We need better filters, something to stand between us and the impossible intensity of observation that comes from four and a half billion minds sharing whatever tickles their fancy. We need to be able to screen the light, reduce the pressure, ease back, and in the dim find a space for thought.

Fortunately, we have one another. Humans make excellent mirrors, reflecting the lights shone by others, but we can also block this light, or share it very selectively. We hear a lot, but don’t repeat all of it all at once to any one person. We select and choose, directed by the memories of the relationships that have grown up over shared moments of sharing. Each shared moment has the potential to reinforce or weaken the bond of relationship, so we become very careful with our strongest relationships, working to keep them strong by refreshing them constantly with the best we can find. Everything not immediately relevant to that relationship is ignored, or saved for a time when it might prove relevant.

We rely on our relationships to provide us with everything they believe we might need to know. Those closest to us will forward something along because it has made its way past the filter they use to keep that relationship strong. We do the same, sharing ourselves judiciously in the quest to keep ourselves well-informed.

This parallel ‘human network’ has grown up alongside the broadcast and print media, uses them, but would experience surprisingly little disruption if every television channel went dark and every printing press stopped. We are the network now, and everything we need to know finds its way to us, precisely because we express our interest in it. Nothing more is required, no subscriptions or sophisticated sharing technologies. These accelerate the human network, and amplify it, but even if all the sharing tools we know and love simply vanished, our human network of sharing and filtering would prove sufficient for all of us to have as much awareness as desired of anything that we consider salient.