Let’s start with the proposition that the evolution of the human species is a critically important thing. If you presume that at some level the purpose of life on this planet is to progress toward increasingly more sophisticated and aware levels of capability and operation, then supporting that evolutionary impulse is critically important.
If you stand in the way of those trends, then you’re not just “hindering progress”. You’re literally slowing down the whole human race in its efforts to develop the capability to effectively adapt to the rest of the reality – technology, knowledge, the environment, biology – that is moving inexorably toward the next stage of development.
The Gaian theory persuasively argues that the earth and all of its component parts are alive and sentient . . . and an incomprehensively integrated, highly nonlinear system that is going through its own evolutionary process. Humans are just a part of that much larger system, it is said, and are a subordinated and directed variable that is actively influenced and shaped to support the evolution of the planet.
If you think about that – that there may well be “external” influences that affect why we, as humans, do the things we do – then it could well explain some things that seem inextricable. How do you make sense out of wild political swings? Where did same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana issues come from? (I mean, they just seemed to rise to dominance in a matter of years from being non-issues for decades). There are all kinds of big issues and events that appear counter to commonsense and expert opinion.
And . . . why the Internet now?
If you buy the directed evolution idea, then for something as important and profound as the Internet you would have to say that it is here for a reason – a reason related to the emergence and evolution of the species. There are a number of indicators that suggest that that is really the case.
When you look into a number of analogues from other domains of how complex systems change from one state to another . . . and then project those principles over into the area of global human behavior, you find out some interesting things. First of all, a shift could happen very rapidly – in fact, the rate of change from the old (present) world to a new one that operates in rather different terms, varies with the number of moving parts – in this case, humans. Smaller numbers produce a transformation more slowly than large numbers.
We presently have something like 8 billion people on this earth. That sounds like a pretty big number, but in the big scheme of things, it’s pretty small compared, for example, to the number of water molecules in a puddle that is about to freeze. So, it may be a big number or maybe it’s not so big.
But there’s another variable that shapes the state change rate: it’s how the parts interface or communicate with adjacent others. The more avenues for connection that exist, the faster the evolutionary impulse proliferates throughout the system.
That makes sense. If you live out in the country, like I do, and all there was other than face-to-face communication was a telephone – and perhaps radio – the whole metabolism of the system would be (and was) much slower than it is today. The difference, of course, is the Internet.
The Internet is our era’s equivalent of Gutenberg’s movable type and the printing press that followed: it is a technology that generates a quantum jump in how humans share ideas and information. It greatly accelerates the internal metabolism of the system. It provides the communications infrastructure (think “global nervous system”), that allows the human race to generate and share the new ideas that support the exponential increase in knowledge that is being generated. At the same time, it hurries the rapid obsolescence of the legacy systems and institutions . . . and they fight back.
That’s what is happening now. Many of the major commercial Internet players want to sustain the centralized, highly profitable model of operation that has characterized the past centuries. This open, unregulated communications/nervous system that allows everyone equal access to the Internet has destroyed the need for middle-men (like editors, publishers, agents, and printers) and instead empowered individuals – anywhere – to play the roles that these centralized control points played in maintaining the hierarchical, dominating system for hundreds of years. Now there’s a significant effort afoot to reestablish these control points by allowing the big players that control the big pipes to put valves in the lines so that they can control who gets effective access to the Net by slowing down the data transfer rate for small players and opening it up for the big, high-paying producers.
The big operators generate entertainment. The small players produce the new ideas. The big operators maintain the status quo; the little guys threaten all parts of the system with the innovations and fresh perspectives that fuel the global mind shift. Throttle the ideas and you slow the evolution of the species.
A good part of the perceived problem is the rate-of-change that the open system enables. As more and more people become a part of this global brain and the bandwidth increases between them all, then the whole system accelerates toward the inevitable state change that will produce the new world that is headed this way.
The further along in the process we get, the faster the transition gets . . . and the harder it is for big organizations and governments to maintain their position of superiority and control. Whether they articulate it in these terms or not, they clearly sense the possibility of the rate of change getting out of control and the need to do everything that they can now to maintain their current level of influence . . . or to slow down the system enough to tamp down the rate of change.
To most players, all this is jockeying for positions of dominance – it’s all business or politics. But the need to keep the web open equally to everyone is the biggest issue on the planet today, because slowing down the net slows down the ability of humanity to generate the creativity and innovation that is required – in almost every sector – to contribute to and stay ahead of the change that we can’t directly influence.
Take climate change, for example. The weather in the northern hemisphere this week certainly supports my contention that the climate change that we will experience in the coming years will be a significant shift toward it becoming much colder.
If that is what happens, then our species will need to be agile and resilient more than ever before. We will need to come up with new ideas, implement them quickly, and adjust the way we live as fast as we can. If food doesn’t grow where it always has (to mention one implication), there won’t be much time to switch gears and embrace some really rapid reorganizing.
That (and many other equally important, concurrent issues) will require the global neural system to operate as effectively as possible in order for us to come up with the needed solutions. Necessity may well be the mother of invention, but that creativity will arise as a function of the operating efficiency of the underlying system. If the system is biased towards entertainment, the species loses.
This example, of course, says nothing about the evolution of a whole new mindset that will allow us to see the way to the future in fresh new ways. It doesn’t allude to the enlightenment – the awakening – of the human race that has begun and will be central to the formation of the framework for the new world. The success and effectiveness of those processes depend heavily upon new thoughts and ideas easily finding those with receptive minds. Slow that down and you slow down the biggest evolution in the history of the planet.
Everything going forward will vary with the efficiency of the global brain. The stakes are larger than anything else in history and we must recognize what this attempt to dumb down the brain would do. We can’t afford to close down the creative side of that brain – in order to entertain the other side. We must have net neutrality.