I regret to inform you that my morale has been inaccurately reported within the past 24 hours or so... believe it or not, I am not edified by the fact that robot soldiers, manufactured to kill enemy troops, have been designed for the Pentagon. I've since turned the + into a -- and now my morale is going to spend a few days slightly overcompensating for its own oversight. Apologies from the people who oversee Erik's morale.
In other news there's a rumor that Google is going to buy Friendster. Man! I know everyone thinks social software is over-hyped and that Friendster sucks, but I'm in that camp of two or three people who still think it's under-hyped. And it's closer than you all think, I swear!
I report the rumor with a - in the
Ever think about the transportation of information in our world? Do societies have structures in place similar to the nervous system in our body? Say you're walking down he street and you get brushed on your shoulder from behind. How long does it take for the message to travel to your head? Given the circumstances, how long does it take for your brain to tell your head to look behind you? How long does it take for your eyes to tell your brain that you were brushed by the side-view mirror of a bus that is pulling up right next to you and that might possibly knock you off your feet? How long before you jump out of the way? At which point did the information reach the threshold where all physical activity of your body was attentive to the current needs that were recently brought to your attention by your shoulder? With 9/11, how long did it take for 5% of the nation to know about it? How long before 50%? How long before 90%? 99%? 99.9%? How does that pattern compare with the information's travel into the rest of the world. Do 99.9% of all people on the planet, even today, know about 9/11? How would the structure of the world have to change in order to allow messages of highest importance to reach 100% of the people in less than a day? Would our world be more efficient if that were possible? I would like to see some graphs: national coverage over the first minute, ten minutes, half hour, hour, and day, same with world coverage. And I want to compare them to other types of information that travels out: Ben & Jennifer's supposed break-up, the Britney/Madonna kiss, etc. Thinking about the world like this sort of gives me the shivers, it feels dehumanizing to think of people as information receptors and transmitters... but I also strongly believe that some force is making us organize ourselves to behave that way. Is it an evil force or a good force or a neutral force, and can we control it?
I guess another thing I want to know about, out of curiosity, is how I relate to the patterns. Which segment of society was I in for each of these memes. Is it better for an individual to be close to the information, or far from it--both in terms of natural selection and in terms of quality of life. Sitting here... if something really really important were to happen, how would I be notified and how could that be used to reveal parts of the infrastructure around me? If aliens landed in Central Park, how would I find out? The TV's not on, the stereo's playing a CD, I'm logged into a secret IM account that only a couple other people know about. My newsreader's open though, and so is my email client, so I'd probably find out within an hour (my news reader's update schedule). Say I was on the way to work though... would someone pull over and tell me if terrorists had evaporated the Sound with their secret laser beam, or would I have to wait until I made it all the way to work... and once there, who would be assigned to tell me? Are we assigned to spread information when something important happens?
In other words, is there infrastructure in our social network that makes us feel obligated to call loved ones and post something to our weblog and turn on the news and post some more and IM close friends etc when we learn about certain kinds of information? What kinds of information trigger what kinds of flags in us--I guess I don't have to look any further than my morale-o-meter to see what types of information I'm sensitized to transmit. On a smaller scale than national crisis, does this same principle hold true? Are low-threshold links an innovation designed to help us with these smaller scale bits of information? When I read a rumor about Google and Friendster, or when a friend gets married or breaks up, is it my own choice to pass this on or is there pressure from our social network that obliges us to pass this information on? How much of our day-to-day routine is specifically designed to pass information on (no matter how trivial) to different people at different levels of urgency depending on the information's decreed importance?
What interests me is that this structure exists at all. It would seem almost impossible to create such a structure and then make everyone adhere to it... and yet it exists under the surface without us noticing it. If it didn't exist, how would we create it--through software, operating systems, advertising, government lies, and peer pressure? We stray from the structure fairly liberally, but the point is that we constantly strive to adhere... as if it were natural. We make up excuses on its behalf, we reward peers that excel at their assignments and give us good information, we promote, buy, and listen to those who do a good job. These invisible social structures that influence individual and group behavior, not quite laws, not quite conscious decisions, what are they?
I guess another related question is what exactly the structures are optimizing for. Is it all based on survival, is the structure ingrained in us due to natural selection on both individual and group levels? We pass information along according to this structure because it helps us survive and it helps our group survive (which also helps us survive). We can't take our own success and survivability and popularity lightly, because the lack of success, life, and popularity is its own punishment.
The structure seems to be optimizing for increased organization. Hence... everything basically. And I come around to the point (the long way)... if information transportation in our societies resembles information transportation in our individual bodies (which I guess I glossed over in my excitement... pretend you believe that assumption), when will our societies begin exhibiting more advanced characteristics of individuals? When will the group turn into an individual? Is that even a phenomenon within the realm of possibility? It seems like our universe is build up out of systems that once worked as individuals (strings, atoms, cells, etc) and eventually began cooperating to the extent that the individuals became so dependent on the group that they could not exist without it. How long could we last without grocery stores, city planners, police forces, etc? We can still get by fairly easily, if uncomfortably. But there may be a point (entirely within our current predictable future path) where we can't. We will make systems of information, food, etc, so efficient that they rely entirely on the group to provide them to the individuals... some parts of the group (organs) will provide necessary functions for the group so efficiently that the rest of the group can effectively stop trying to provide those necessary functions (and eventually forget about how to provide them even in a crisis), and instead try to find their own valuable contributions for the group so that they can justify their own existence. The struggle to survive in an increasingly segmented and efficient environment alone may be enough to propel us to this end.
But our imaginations aren't good at imagining this transition (at least mine isn't) from individual cells into organs within a larger individual. We rebel against losing focus on the individual and would rather die than allow the group to become an individual on the next level up. It requires us to cross our eyes for a second. It's almost like it requires some unpardonable sin against the individual to be committed... it has to be done subconsciously, when nobody is looking. We fall asleep one night as individuals and wake up as cells in an organism that has an agenda completely its own the next morning.
And I guess I (sub?)consciously want to be in the organ (be it Friendster + Google or some other company/government/friend-circle) that is as much a part of the cognitive awareness of this new idiotic beast as possible. Is that really what this is all about? All this pressure to be involved and contribute and be deemed worthy? Let me in? Please?