Internet as Organism

February 2, 2016

If you swing equal length pendulums on a table, they eventually synchronize. The slight movement of the table offsets the swing just enough to slow down the ones that are rushing, and speed up the ones that are dragging. The table, unknowingly, acts in ways that control the pendulums, propelled by the pendulums themselves.

I’m fascinated by the idea that the Internet is the table, and the people are the pendulums. The Internet has shaped human behavior in vast and consistent ways. We have shorter attention spans. We don’t worry about remembering facts anymore. We make more plans, but with less commitment. We stay in touch with far more friends, but get far less emotional satisfaction out of each connection. We swipe, poke, star, heart, and favorite, encouraging or discouraging each other.

I used to mock people who expressed concern that the Internet would become self-aware. But now I wonder, does self-awareness it matter? In a perverse version of the Turing test, if the Internet is expressing behaviors indistinguishable from a self-aware organism, then perhaps the actual self-awareness is just a detail. One could respond that the intent of the Internet is important, and only comes with self-awareness, but then again, do other organisms have true intent, other than to simply stay alive?

And the Internet has exhibited enough usefulness that we, the pendulums, continue to build it. All the while thinking that we have ultimate control, but unaware of the greater system nudging our behavior in tiny but critical ways, just like the table and the pendulums.

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