Technology is almost indistinguishable from magic. Learn to manipulate it.
by Michael Phillip Nelson (@midwestmike__)
What if I told you someone invented a magical tool to not only simplify and shorten the creative process, but spread your ideas instantly to any part of the world, to a limitless number of people? What if I told you language has evolved from something that’s simply spoken or written, to something that literally creates in real time at the behest of anyone who has command over it?
It sounds like Science Fiction, but this magic does exist and we, the young and the forward-thinking, are the first initiates. Yes, it sounds dramatic, grandiose even, but if you think about it even for a moment, you’ll find that it is.
Consider this— data has gone from a simple stream of ones and zeros capable of communicating only rudimentary commands, to a collection of programming languages more verbose and expressive than any language spoken through manipulation of the human tongue. Also consider that this process didn’t take thousands of years to evolve, like spoken and written language. It took mere decades.
Today’s data is akin to an expression of the very field of raw potential from which ideas arise. Sure, on their own, ones and zeros, like ideas that have yet to take form, are meaningless. Yet, coupled with imagination, knowledge and the proper intention, they can literally become anything.
In spite of its amazing potential, data, the Internet and technology are often dismissed as part of the “problem.” Technology has stripped us of our social skills, they say. Modern man’s collective intellect and attention is being sapped by endless amounts of time wasting, mind numbing, sites, games, articles and other virtual distractions. Perhaps ”they,” are right. Or maybe what they’re describing are just growing pains or side effects of a much, much grander maturation process.
Let’s take a step back and call the Internet what it is. It’s a barometer of humanity, or perhaps more accurately, a mirror of our own maturation as individuals and as a species. It’s hard to say where the Internet is in this process now, but I think it’s safe to say it’s very, very early. Perhaps it’s like a child that hasn’t even begun to walk yet. What will this “walking” look like? Will it lead to some sort of technological singularity or hive mind? Your guess is as good as mine. However, there do seem to be some trends. Trends toward gathering in communities, where the individual fades and the collective shines. Just look at the explosion of Social Media and crowd sourcing.
In just the last several years, since Social Media’s boom, we’ve been archiving thoughts until they’ve become bodies of information too great for even the greatest man to keep up with, let alone grasp. The information and knowledge within the Internet is constantly growing and we are becoming more and more connected to it. It’s becoming nothing short of an interdependent, mutually experienced form of gnosis in which we all simultaneously take part in, yet create. I use this word, “gnosis,” because it denotes a directly experienced knowledge that has risen beyond tactile and changed into something completely new and transcendent.
Let’s take this analogy one step further and say a type of evolution is happening in an exponential nutshell right in front of our faces. It seems to have all the necessary Darwinian trappings: Trial and error, success and failure, flourishing communities, the death of countless others, even physical maturation and mutation. Maybe sometime in the not too distant future the net will even gain some measure of self-awareness. After all, the digital web crisscrossing this globe is looking more and more like the synaptic network that resides within our skulls.
This brings me back to my initial point. We have a cohesive, yet infinitely flexible virtual platform that was created through what people would have literally deemed magic not that long ago. We should never lose sight of this fact and it should never stop inspiring awe. Sure, the Internet can be used for the mundane, profane or unremarkable, but it can also be used to mobilize communities, transcend borders, topple governments, create art and fundamentally change lives. I am no visionary and I certainly don’t always use technology for noble or grandiose endeavors, nor am I saying we have to. What I am saying is that we are headed somewhere, somewhere big. Data and this co-created state of technological gnosis are playing a key role in taking us there. Remember, we all have role to play and a say in where this goes. The Internet is a true democracy, which means you can manipulate this magic ever so slightly. You can change things.