Victus Spiritus


Ludicrous Bear Story, We Don't Get the Net

03 Jan 2010

This post isn't about access (for 70-80% of humanity) but about understanding. From all I read, there are very few people who really understand the nature of the Internet. This is my attempt at a Kevin Kellyish wag at what the net means to humanity, society, culture, and our future.

Start from an Evolutionary Perspective

Imagine a younger Earth, almost a half billion years ago when the sea was alive with early life. Competition even then forced parallel evolutionary traits such as vision. Certainly seeing food or danger is a big advantage to life.

But even more fundamental than sight, is the collection of neurons that allow a creature to be aware of itself. The nervous system of even simple multicellular organisms allowed for the beginning of wonderous species complexity that we witness in the world today.

The Net is not Separate from Us, It is Part of a Greater Us

Nervous systems opened the doorway for complex species evolution. In a similar pattern, the Internet is a primitive extension of the system connecting humanity into a super organism. In it's simplest form, a nervous system consists of state messages between nodes. Individual nodes behave in unison as an emerging system of far greater ability. In this framework each of us plays the role of a specialized cell within a greater life form that spans the globe. We're part of a lifeform greater than ourselves. The limits of co-evolution between ourselves and the Net are unknown and we're only now seeing the efficiency advantages throughout industries, both physical and informational.

No matter how specialized we excel in our existence as individuals, it has little meaning unless somehow connected to others. Take for instance the fictional lone bear hunter Tiberius.
(I apologize in advance for this ludicrous example fable, some moments whimsy rules my judgement)

He lived a simple and isolated life in the forests many centuries ago. But there were many ferocious and hungry bears that hunted near his cottage home. Tiberius would go out each morning and beat the crap out of a few bears. If you witnessed the incredible skill and enormous strength of Tiberius you'd surely be writing about it too. But Tiberius' amazing accomplishments in martial warfare were never documented, witnessed, or communicated to other people. They benefitted no one but himself. I recognize this could be argued, the bears may have learned to fear the scent of man, but for the sake of this fable imagine Tiberius smelled different from other humans. The measurable benefit of Tiberius' isolated achievements mean nothing to humanity on the whole, although they'd make for a good story over drinks.

(end ludicrous fable)

Businesses and Individuals Seek to Exploit the Net for Local Profit

This is precisely the type of thinking that is doomed to failure. Trying to use the connected network to drain local resources only diminishes the local super organism "health". If the super organism is made "sick" by inefficient resource allocation, or the presence of toxins, all nodes suffer.

In a connected network each node benefits by improving the nodes it is connected to, and the overall health (and wealth) of the super organism. All strategies and efforts should consider the network effect. Nodes don't grow by consuming other nodes, they grow by being more highly interconnected. Resources naturally flow to the highly functional and heavily linked node. This is a simple description of the strategy shared by Kevin Kelly in New Rules for the New Economy. I encourage readers interested in learning about the nature of the Net to check it out (there's also book & ebook formats for easy reading).