“Is this Internet Changing the Way We Think?”

I recommend you read the book of the same name, available online. I’m reading the Kindle version. It’s cool. It’s making me think, and the articles are quite short, so I can pick it up and read it in small increments. This is a bonus for a busy teacher. Anyway, onto my thoughts about it.

Many of the authors in the book liken the Internet to an organism or organic system. I agree with this. Whether it is a “global brain” (a term many of the contributors use) a “collective mind” or an “anthill” (one author used that analogy) it is an organic thing that evolves, expands, and configures as more people influence it. It is a collection of parts that will reform itself as necessary, which is why I don’t care as much about the question.

Humanity is faced with increasingly daunting questions as to how it will continue on an Earth that is stretched to its capacity in terms of resources, conflict, and other problems. With the Internet available to help us connect, collect, and regurgitate in our stead, we have the opportunity to focus on the “big picture” in ways that were unimaginable prior to its invention/emergence/creation/whatever. I hope that the Internet will remain the open place it is now. It may not given the pressures nation-states place on themselves to suppress or alter it in order to prevent its use as a “change agent” (think: Arab Spring).

That brings me to my last thought, which in some ways was my first one because I first posted it on Facebook the day before I wrote this post (what can I say — I don’t think linearly.) I asked:

Are there certain people who change the Internet? Do we have “digital overlords?” 

My friend answered:

“Digital overlords”? It is to laugh. Mubarak, who had the technical ability to turn off the internet and used it, found himself surrounded by portable nodes on ships off his coast.”

I replied:

“When I mentioned “digital overlords,” I was thinking Jobs and Zuckerberg, not Mubarak. I think there are going to be people who can drive the technology in our society, and they will become increasingly more important to how the “digital peons” see it. I think political power will become less of an issue than info-power, like the Internet becoming the new currency.”

This is an evolution I fear. Just as the brain “controls” the body (this is one interpretation of the brain’s function) so too could the Internet evolve. What if the “brain” turns out to be psychopathic, uncaring, or self-involved? That is why the collective nature of the Internet must be preserved. It must be democratic, for lack of a better term. We need a mix of crazy and sane, of compassionate and unfeeling, of all-serving and self-serving. Corporations, political leaders, and others with vested and often nefarious interests need to lay off and let the ‘Net evolve. Note I don’t suggest that they be removed entirely: the best organisms are permitted to grow with some intervention (think: domesticated animals) but the process should not be co-opted by individual interests. Individualized tinkering rarely creates a desired result, or creates a result with more stark consequences than its makers intended (invented virus strains, GMO’s, the Bomb, you get it.)

So maybe I do care. See? I let my blog post evolve.

ADDENDUM: If you are interested in the original presentation I did with my colleague Daniel Thrower, please refer to his post that summarized our ideas on the topic.  There you also will find the infographic he created. I made a YouTube video using the 1980’s icon Max Headroom.

Here is the video, if you are interested:

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