Living in the Hive Mind

Our minds are created out of billions of interconnected brain cells.  And we’re billions of people living in an interconnected world of television and computer networks.  Is our world becoming the science fictional hive mind?  Personal computers have gone to parallel processing with ever growing number of CPU cores.  Is something like Wikipedia the result of thousands of human minds working in parallel?

For most of Earth’s biological history, individual life forms competed with others for survival.  Eventually organizations like social insects and herd animals developed, but what can we call the Internet in relation to biological cooperation?  Is it a hive mind?

How much of my thinking dwells on my immediate life of breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping and earning dollars to make my living, and how much is spent on data from the gigantic sensory network of the Internet?  And wasn’t books really just an earlier form of networking?  And then newspapers, radio and television more advanced forms?

I just finished reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence which most people think is about sex, but it’s also about the transformation of society by industrialization.  Last night I watched Bright Star, about John Keats and Fanny Brawne in England 1818-1821, about one hundred years before Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  I’m also reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species by Janet Browne, about how Charles Darwin came to write his famous book.  All three of these stories illustrate the transformation of society over the past two hundred years.  I think the romantic poets might have been canaries in the mine.

In Bright Star, people lived in houses with no electricity, and light and heat came from fire.  Their only connection with the world beyond their vision was through letters and books.  People led lives very close to other people, as nearly all work and play involved direct social involvement.  Much of our time is spent communicating with people indirectly though computers and television screens.  We spend far more of our time connected with the world beyond our vision.  Facebook is considered socializing by many people.

The gamekeeper of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, Oliver Mellors knows what it’s like to be an individual and understands how industrialization was destroying individuality.  One of the reasons the novel is so much about sex is because Lawrence believes the physical contact between individuals is more important than intellectual communication.  Was Lawrence right?  Is the hive mind bad?

Could we ever go back?  What if we turned off the hive mind?  It would involve shutting down the computer and television networks.  What would society be like if the fastest form of communication was books and letters?  I’d be out of a profession, since most of my life has been working with computers.  When I was young I worked in libraries, so I could go back to that.  Oliver Mellors couldn’t stop industrialization so he and Lady Chatterley had to retreat from the world to a farm.  During the 1960s the final path of hippies was back to the land too.  In fact, for thousands of years, all revolts against socialization has been back to nature movements.

Through the Internet I am in communication with people from all over the world.  Could I return to a life of working in my yard and hanging out with a few people I know physically?  For most people it’s not an either or consideration, they blend in both worlds, but if you look at the young they are spending more and more time in the hive mind.  The mobile phone will probably become the closest thing we’ll ever have to telepathy.

I spend a lot of my time being lonely for physical interaction with other people.  And even though I find great intellectual satisfaction from the Internet it never eases that physical loneliness.

Farmville, the Facebook game, has over 82 million active players, and represents over 1% of the world’s population.  What does that say?  Is it a virtual return to the land, or is it a new hive mind form of socializing, or is it a sad escape from physical loneliness?  I say that as I write this for my hive mind friends to read while my wife is out in the den tending to her virtual farm.

JWH – 3/27/10

4 thoughts on “Living in the Hive Mind”

  1. I thought this essay was a bit disconnected, and I didn’t get a clear idea of what you were trying to say…
    I’ve been playing Farmville for a while but it feels more lonely than a social activity. I’ll keep it because my 3 year old son loves the animations.
    In another direction: It seems to me that the biggest potential and utility of the internet is to bring together people with the same interests from all over the world (and yes, in that sense, letters, fanzines, and the telegraph did it before, this is just faster and easier).

    1. Sorry about the disconnectedness Ignacio. Focused writing is something I’m weak at and want to work on. There are a number of problems I need to deal with. First, I try to say too much at once, often with ideas that are weakly connected. Also, I’m bad about assuming concepts I see clearly are easily referenced. I really should write much shorter posts that are clearly focused on a single topic. But I get excited about juggling ideas and run away at the keyboard.

      I think the Internet is bringing us together in an abstract way, but for some people like myself, I might be letting the Internet substitute for more needed one on one relationships. I’ll have to explore the idea again.

      1. It was intended as a constructive criticism. You´re usually more focused that in this one.
        About the internet and RL interaction: you are right, and it is related with a point I tried to make in your post about education. What can we _do_ about an issue? A common answer among young people nowadays is to create a Facebook group or twit about it. That is quite ineffective, a politician can safely ignore 300,000 people in a facebook group, as long as they don´t meet in the streets. Sure, such groups make the news now a then (in my city) because of the novelty of the medium (social network), but I think it creates the false and dangerous feeling that one is doing something. Dangerous because it may prevent people from actually doing something.

    2. Don’t worry, Ignacio, I took it as constructive criticism. I want such comments.

      Regarding education. At my university they are rapidly shifting to online courses and I’m wondering if students learn as well from them as they would in classrooms. Our university is losing students to online schools, so we have to compete.

      On the other hand, our local public schools are doing a terrible job at teaching math, and I wonder if online instruction might help with this problem. Maybe there is a synergy

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