Furthest Right

The internet: devolution or evolution

Science Fiction writer David Brin weighs in with a classic liberal humanist Enlightenment dogma screed. What I’ve done is excerpt only the nodal points:

On one side are those who think the Internet will liberate humanity, in a virtuous cycle of e-volving creativity that may culminate in new and higher forms of citizenship. Meanwhile, their diametrically gloomy critics see a kind of devolution taking hold, as millions are sucked into spirals of distraction, shallowness and homogeneity, gradually surrendering what little claim we had to the term “civilization.”

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But the very freedom that makes the Internet so attractive also undermines the influence of gatekeepers who used to sift and extol some things over others, helping people to pick gold from dross.

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Carr and others worry how 6 billion ships will navigate when they can no longer even agree upon a north star.

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Clay Shirky, the technology forecaster and author of “Here Comes Everybody,” presents an equally impressive array of evidence showing that the ability of individuals to autonomously scan, correlate and creatively utilize vast amounts of information is rising faster, almost daily.

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If our bodies were this inefficient — with such an astronomical ratio of silliness to quality — we’d explode from all the excess white blood cells before ever benefiting from the few that usefully attack an error or disease.

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Can Shirky or Huffington point to even one stupidity that has been decisively disproved online?

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Beyond imagination and creativity and opinion, we also need a dance of Shiva, destroying the insipid, vicious and untrue.

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I can self-express with the best of ’em. It’s how I make my living! But all by itself, it is never, ever going to bring us to a singularity — or even a culture of relatively effective problem solvers.

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What we need to remember is that there is nothing unique about today’s quandary. Ever since the arrival of glass lenses and movable type, the amount that each person can see and know has multiplied, with new tools ranging from newspapers and lithographs to steamships and telegraphs, to radio and so on. And every time, conservative nostalgists claimed that normal people could not adapt, that such godlike powers should be reserved to an elite, or perhaps renounced. – Salon

What if both sides were correct: we’re processing more information than ever before, but it’s information created by our disconnection from reality?

Think of it this way. When there’s a consensus as to what reality is and how to assess (judge) it and our actions toward it, relatively little information is generated. But when this isn’t known, each person veers off into their own path, becoming automatic mental chaff generators before their arc converges on well-known paths and becomes normed.

Of all the blogs out there, 98% of them expressed the same six things today, just dressed up in “unique” and “important” forms.

The information we’re processing — opinions, viral videos, computer games, Wikipedia editorial drama — has very little to do with reality. Our technology is building on the shoulders of giants but breakthroughs are not as dramatic. There is more bulk to process, and less of those rare and insightful moments when a change at the center of a structure alters its fundamental character.

Some of this is science. After you discover the digital computer, you must build a whole bunch of them to evolve the process. After you discover DNA, you begin the long process of documenting each part of it. But even that is hampered by our drama. Scientists must get funding for research that generates money; computers are products and so the fancy ones sell more than new technologies.

Maybe what Brin is looking for, as a writer, is the knowledge that the 6 billion lacking agreement about the north star are the problem — that our civilization is in decay — and that this process began long before technology. It happens to every society. Just like humans, if we keep our focus, we thrive; if not, we dissolve and die.

Luckily, this seemingly grim knowledge spares us from worrying about whether the internet will make us 6 billion geniuses or 6 billion fetuses: realists know that we’ve already arrived at 6 billion cabbage heads nodding sagely to lies and frowning at truth. Wikipedia just documents it conveniently for us.

Dying civilizations always birth a final group, a remnant who can still recognize reality despite the influx of socialized reality dogma, or the idea that humans in society can re-define reality based on human form and socialization. This parting group goes on somewhere else to found a new society. They do so on the basis of consensus about what is real, not being self-impressed by how much bloviation about nothing they can foment to convince each other of their own importance. And that’s really the only singularity or net.wisdom we need look for here.

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