53 – #FRACTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 – #REVELATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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