Home > The Ghost in the Machine > The Ghost in the Machine: Dialogue on the Influence of the Internet, Part 3

The Ghost in the Machine: Dialogue on the Influence of the Internet, Part 3

Welcome back to the exciting discussion I have had the pleasure of joining!  I hope you have taken the time to read the previous posts thoroughly, because I have found them utterly fascinating myself.  Part 3 comes from Ryan Burrell, author of In All Reality.

Following is Ryan Burrell’s original work in its entirety.  I recommend eating lots of “brain food” (like tuna fish or brains) before attempting to understand a post of this intelligence.  Enjoy!

This post is part of an ongoing collaborative conversation.  You can view Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Part 3

This discussion has so far covered some mathematic theory, and a histoy of life before the web.  Now, let’s examine the future in pursuit of our original line of inquiry: Does the Internet reflect Humanity or vice versa?

We’ve given our conversation the title of “The Ghost in the Machine“, because the subject matter deals with the duality of human experience – the mind reflecting the body, or the body reflecting the mind.   A series of anime movies based on the questions involved in the original thesis, entitled The Ghost in the Shell, were produced in 1995 and 2004. The series focuses on the question of delineation between man and machine (the films are quite excellent on a number of levels and I highly recommend renting them and experiencing their intellectual pathways firsthand).  In the movies, consciousness has expanded to encompass all information, begging the question: How do you define the difference between software and biology – thought and algorithm?

Such questions are highly appropriate for our lines of reasoning.  In The Ghost in the Shell, it was extremely common for people to have cyborg implants, called e-brains, as well as external memory devices where they could offload their thoughts, memories, and other information..  A physical body was no longer a necessary requirement for “life”, and one’s stored thoughts, ideas, and memories could be shuffled around from location to location, easily merging with other data types and being shared across networks…for good or evil.

An Extension of Humanity

In an extremely short time relative to the whole of human history, the Internet has impacted us all in ways we don’t even realize.  A completely new method of communication and interaction has been opened to us, and we’re just beginning to understand its potential.  Like the e-brains, wetware upgrades, and external storage units of The Ghost in the Shell, we have used the Internet to extend ourselves beyond our normal capacity, both literally and figuratively.

In a very real sense, the Internet has allowed us to extend our capacity to store our thoughts, memories, and even feelings.  Services like Evernote or Remember The Milk replace the string around the finger of past days, but bring also the capability of being accessed anytime from nearly any location.  Xanga, Blogger, WordPress, and any of the other myriad web logging services allow us to store snippets of time and ideas in a centralized location – yet still accessible freely by all.  Even applications like Twitter, that thrive on an endless stream of output about things as trivial as our moods, store all of their data as external records of our feelings at any given point in time.

We no longer have to rely on our long-term memory capabilities, but instead store them externally – outside of our physical selves.  These items of data, units of thought, and cubits of thinking have gained a permanence beyond what previous media (such as books and recordings) can offer. A book must be reprinted on physical materials, but a database can be duplicated a multitude of times and its information dispersed in the blink of an eye.  This metadata serves to make up a vast amount of what we’ve lovingly termed The Web, and obviously points to the Internet being a product of humanity’s contributions.

An Advancement of Humanity

But what about the idea of reciprocal change?  We have created a complex network of thoughts and ideas – a network rapidly becoming accessible to more and more of the world’s populace.  The data we contribute to it isn’t locked away, to be perused only when the fancy strikes us.  No, instead the vast majority of information stored on the open Web can be accessed by anyone…and that information can be a powerful force of change.  The Internet exists as an extension of our humanity, but it also serves as an agent of adaptation and movement.

Every conversation we have with another person, every book we read, every song we hear, every new idea we encounter, changes us in some way.  In daily life without the Web, a thousand new experiences may cross our path, both large and small.  Add in the ability of the Internet to spread information at an exponential rate, and its ability to change us is obvious.  We have created a perpetual motion device; we have created an engine that publishes our ideas and feeds new ones to us in one swift movement.

With the ease with which we can access such information, we change more rapidly.  New ideas can be traded more easily, and refinements made more quickly.  Trends can be communicated instantly, future predictions more readily available.  Our societal ideals and cultural influences, the very things that we feel make up each of our unique viewpoints…all of these can now feed off each other and adapt beyond any previously known speed or capability.

A Paradox

It is not the first time in human history that such a situation as what we are observing with the Internet has existed.  The construction of Roman roads led to an unprecedented spread of commerce and communication.  The printing press made efficient mass reproduction of thoughts a reality.  Television allowed not only a lightning-fast transference of ideas, but also the subtle visual cues that went along with them.

But at no other point in our history have we had the ability to communicate so openly, to save our ideas so easily, and to share information so quickly.  Ideas abound about the creation of a “global consciousness”, an interlinking of thoughts and ideas occurring at such a rate that a whole greater than the sum of its parts is created.  Perhaps this is a good thing, or perhaps it is not.  Yet, confusing though it may be, one thing is clear:  The Internet exists because we created it, but the Internet is creating the next great chapter of humanity.

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