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