by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, July 9, 2017
Science fiction has long predicted humans meeting alien races that belong to a hive mind. The most famous example is probably the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Currently Internet Live says there are 3.7 billion users on the internet, with over 2 billion on Facebook – that’s out of 7+ billion humans. What will it mean if humanity joins a singular bio-cyber-system that allows us to interconnect?
Some people think of the hive mind in negative terms, with everyone thinking in lockstep fashion. Other people believe the hive mind could be positive, a worldwide communion of souls. I’m somewhat in the middle. Technology can produce an iPhone or an A-bomb. Also, the term hive mind is currently defined in different ways, so we need to work out a common definition.
But let’s compare Facebook to the past. The earliest forms of mass communication were the newspaper and journal, but it wasn’t until radio and television that we started talking about the impact of mass communication. 530 million people watched the moon landing. That’s a lot of people for one shared memory, especially when we were only 3+ billion. It’s not uncommon now to see a silly sentimental video on Facebook shared by tens of millions.
The difference with Facebook and older media technology is the mass audience replies. Facebook allows people to respond to what’s being broadcast to the masses. That should be good, right? We get our say. Unfortunately, what’s heard sometime is ugly.
Humans aren’t like ants and bees. We don’t have rigid roles within our society. We don’t work together in unison for some common purpose. Humans are often in conflict. But that conflict can be anything from disagreement over a movie to starting another world war.
I’m not sure where Facebook will take us, but I have noticed one interesting trend. When I got my first modem back in the early 1980s I connected to services like CompuServe, Prodigy, GEnie, AOL and various Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In each case, I joined forums to discuss books. When I got on the internet I discussed books on Usenet News. After the web took hold I discussed books on Yahoo! Groups. At each technology stage, I was able to discuss books with more people around the world.
Via blogging and Twitter, I guessed there were just a few hundreds of fans of old pulp magazine still around. After I got on Facebook I discovered many thousands.
Lately, Yahoo! Groups, my favorite method for online book clubbing, has been dying. In one book club, we formed a Facebook group to support our Yahoo! Group. Then my co-moderator left the Yahoo! Group to manage the Facebook. His group currently has 3,617 members, whereas the Yahoo! Group membership has dwindled down to less than 12 active participants. The other day I joined a Facebook group for Western movie fans, it has over 25,000 members. They answered a question in minutes I’d been Googling for days to find.
Technology that allows thousands of people with a shared interest to connect is not a hive mind, but it’s something new. Mass communication has always been a misnomer because the conversation was always one-way. Facebook is creating two-way communication – true communication. Right now we share our minds over funny cat videos, get-togethers with friends, family events, pop culture tidbits, and polarize over political views. The potential of the Facebook technology is still unknown.
What if Donald Trump used Facebook instead of Twitter? Twitter can be two-way communication, but usually, it’s not. Twitter is a favorite tool of cyber bullies. Facebook can be more like virtual get-togethers. Facebook is more inclusive because it is family friendly. That is more of your entire family probably uses Facebook than Twitter.
I doubt Trump would read replies to his posts on Facebook, but wouldn’t both sides of our political divide have to reply in the same place? That would probably the largest flame war ever. A riot in cyberspace. However, what if the Like icons became an instant poll so Trump would have immediate feedback on his ideas. (We’d also need a dislike button icon added to the array.) Wouldn’t that be kind of hive mind like? A president could know rather quickly what voters thought. That’s a sharing of minds.
If Facebook became real-time Gallup Poll for global opinions wouldn’t that produce science fictional results that change our future? Whether we call it a hive mind or not doesn’t really matter. But we want to call it something. Our own individual minds work through a cooperation of many subfunctions. If we create technology that allows billions of humans minds to create gestalt functions we need to name and study them.