the Madness of the Internet

Imagine walking down the street one day and over a period of a few seconds a catastrophic change happens to your brain. Suddenly, the number of synaptic connections increases a thousand fold or more. Image information from your eyes starts being delivered to your pancreas. The heart’s electrical beat is delivered to your left hand. Your emotions suddenly go directly to your face without first being vetted by any conscious control. You find by simply seeing a circle your sense of balance spins and everything smells of horseradish. Falling to the ground, you’d lose your sense of self and control over your body.

Now this is highly unlikely to ever happen to anyone, especially over a very short period of time. Time is a relative thing. You’ve all heard of geologic time scales. Some geologic events happen over extremely long time scales: the movement of the continents, the rise of mountain ranges, and their erosion by wind, rain and glaciers. Considered from geologic time, our own lives are imperceptible flickers.

Many things can be considered with the idea of having their own timescales. Our societies evolve and change over long periods of time, too. If you have studied history, even in just a rudimentary way, you can see that our societies didn’t change much until the Industrial Revolution. At that point they started to change rapidly in comparison to the historical rate of change. Similar to the rate of CO2 rising in our atmosphere, the change has been accelerating rapidly over the last century and even more rapidly in the last ten years.

I believe Information Revolution started with the printing press and was accelerated by technological communication: the telephone, radio, television. As the dendritic connections of communication lines connected all of us together, suddenly people that otherwise would never have connected to each other could talk. With the introduction of the Internet, the connections between people exploded. People with rare interests in their own community could immediately find affinity with others anywhere in the world.

If you think about the historic rate of change in our societies and culture, the Internet has suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Over a period of a few Societal Time Scale seconds, the connections and communication between individuals have increased beyond measure. Segments of our world that never had direct communication before suddenly are bombarded with information.

Consider the brain connection conjecture of my opening paragraph. A person could not survive the sudden explosion of intra-body connections. How can our society survive it without descending into madness? The Internet was inevitable: unstoppable. Now that we’re entering what appears to be another period of societal madness: fake news on Facebook, the echo chamber effect, the loss of privacy and rise of surveillance, I must question if we can survive the Internet.

No, I don’t have any answers. The Internet is key to how I make my living. However, I must examine my career to determine how I’m contributing to the chaos and madness. We in the tech industry have a responsibility to examine what we’re doing and, most importantly, listen to voices outside our abstracted encapsulated world.