Directory:Akahele/Connectivity, Intent and the “new reality”

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Connectivity, Intent and the “new reality”

In 1953, Sir Arthur C. Clarke published a science fiction novel entitled Childhood's End, in which the human race was transformed by a fusion of all human minds into a "hive-mind"-type structure which was then able to integrate with an interstellar Overmind. This novel remains rooted in the world of fantasy, but is perhaps becoming more pertinent as the world uses the Web 2.0 dynamic to become interconnected in a new way.

Currently, the notion of connectivity is creating the means of allowing humanity to see itself as one integrated group, with each individual acting in a specific way to bring forward the aims of the whole. But to what are we connecting ourselves and to which aims? Are the services with which we are interacting giving us tools to realize our goals or are they providing more (to paraphrase dear Mr. Marx) opium for the people?

This idea of individual effort creating a group result is not a strange concept to a musician: indeed, one has to look no further than the orchestra or other such ensembles -- the Drum and Bugle corps is a very brilliant visual illustration of this type of behavior.

These types of group performances are usually characterized by each individual performing highly specialized tasks within the context of the group aims. One can also point to sports teams, theater and dance companies, military organizations, and other such structures as examples of this type of teamwork through individual specialization.

The current use of social media as a means of creating global "connectivity" brings a new dynamic to this old phenomenon which this site has often viewed with a rather critical eye. The way that such services as Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia are used to create "global consciousness" does not always paint a positive picture of evolving human society. Far from the individual acting with intent to promote the global aims, the trivial, the random, and often the untrue content generated thoughtlessly by the faceless hoards who populate these services are quickly taking over our collective consciousness through the sheer volume of the content generated. One noted critic of Wikipedia, former arbitrator Kelly Martin, has described the activities which take place in such places (here describing Wikipedia) in this way:

Wikipedia is a very large cart being pulled by ten thousand cats each individually yoked to it. No one cat can do much to alter its course, although some cats (for various reasons) are better at it than others. At any given time, no small number of the cats are attacking one another rather than pulling the cart. Others run around trying to convince their fellow cats to go in this direction or that, with various degrees of success, and others run around trying to foul the lines. The resulting disaster lurches about the landscape at random, leaving a trail of shredded grass and cat turds wherever it might go. One day, it will lurch over a cliff, and there will be much rejoicing.

It goes without saying that this is hardly a description of clearly defined intent. In spite of all of this trivial and misdirected energy, the circumstances of the uprising in Iran and the use of the social networking service Twitter as an integral part of the protesting activities puts a whole new spin on this issue which I personally felt merited reflection.

Almost every type of "new media" angle is being used to get the most current information out of the country without governmental censorship, without regard to whether or not the information may be correct. However, in comparing the information conveyed in these reports to the type of information usually posted on these sorts of services, one is struck by the sense of urgency and intent in the Iranian posts.

The main difference is evident: there is a direct correlation between the information posted and the physical reality of the people involved in the creation of the content, sometimes even to the point of life or death. The intent is clear and so is the common aim. Instead of being used by the technology in a passive manner, the individual is empowered by this vision and uses the tools to forward the action. Each action is magnified by all of the others, in the same way that the directed movements of the individual musicians create the figures and the implied meaning in a drum corps show. This exercise shows that individuals, acting in a concentrated action towards a common goal, can change their collective reality if they are aware of the collective intent and what their own personal role is in the action.

One can only watch in admiration as the Iranian people use these tools as a means of shaping their collective destiny. Their courage and resourcefulness is indeed a model to emulate. However, is this type of situation that far from our own realities? And what of our own relationship to these tools: are we using them or are they using us?

Judd Bagley has already brilliantly shown how Wikipedia was used by certain elements on Wall Street to manipulate markets through the practice of naked short selling. This is much evidence that public relations firms, governmental agencies from many countries, religious organizations, and other such structures are using social media to try to manipulate public opinion on any number of issues. In these difficult times when businesses are failing and people are losing jobs, savings, and homes, the free circulation of unbiased information can directly affect the objective realities of those of us who use these services.

Wikipedia's featured articles, printed

Even the way that these social media sites are presenting themselves needs to be questioned. Recently, artist Rob Matthews created a book representing Wikipedia's "featured articles". The object created clearly cannot be perceived as being a valid substitute for an encyclopedia. In the same way, Wikipedia Art underlined the inherent flaws behind the way that content was selected, manipulated, and judged. The manifestation of these concepts into concrete forms of reality and the resulting unworkability of these forms suggest that the underlying concepts are flawed. What does this object say about the way that our society is currently transforming and presenting knowledge?

In this rapidly transforming world, whether we use the Internet or whether it uses us might become an important aspect of our real lives. The heroism and courage of the Iranian people gives us a shining example of just how important these tools might become. What we decide to do with them, either as informed active participants or as unthinking passive spectators, could have implications which go far beyond imagination. Taking control of our individual power to discern, to reason, and to validate might be much less abstract than it would seem. And grouping our collective actions might be an effective means of changing our current personal circumstances in an extremely effective way, with possibly surprising results.

Image credits

  • Wikipedia Book: © 2009 by Rob Matthews, used with permission


2 Responses to “Connectivity, Intent and the “new reality””

Gregory Kohs
I am sure you’re familiar with Robert Fripp and his “crafty guitarists” project? It’s interesting to contrast Fripp’s approach with that of the Cavaliers drum & bugle corps. Fripp seemed to me obsessed on group uniformity, in that every performer is precisely mimicking the stated goal.
The videos of his “League of Crafty Guitarists” session performances have been deleted by YouTube (due to copyright), but the audio showcases are still there:
Especially hilarious is this guy’s parody of Fripp’s guitar craft efforts:
And I’m a big Robert Fripp fan, too — so don’t get me wrong!
Paul Wehage
There are many examples of musicians who are obsessed with this kind of precision playing, Fripp being one of ‘em. I chose the Cavaliers performance (probably the best DBC performance ever) because it clearly shows how seemingly random acts by an individual can add up to something much more if seen from a higher vantage point. But the idea can be seen in almost any group activity that I can think of.
I enjoyed the Fripp parody very much! thanks, Greg!