Posts tagged ‘Information Compression’

June 4, 2012

Future Communication

“Pretty soon you’ll be able to go to a drive through, go through, and get–get fucked by a machine.” — Old Lady at Church

Technology may have changed the way in which we communicate, but it has not changed the human being’s need for communication. The problem that so many individuals holding onto the old vanguard of communication–the printed text–is not that communication will vanish, but that it will become stupid and vapid. There is some logic to this, as the depth of meaning and content that can be produced in a thoughtfully written manuscript can hardly be achieved through a one hundred character “tweet.”

The difference between a manuscript and a twitter account, however, is not adequately explored by the establishment however. I am of the opinion that a twitter account can indeed produce deeply moving and important content, but it must be understood that the way in which this is achieved is quite different from the way a book achieves this.

The value of twitter lies in the fact that, by following thousands of byte-sized chunks of information, an individual may come to a greater understanding, and even a feeling of personal closeness to the people that they follow on the site. Whether this deep personal understanding is desireable or useful is a matter for debate, but ultimately is not important. What is important is that just as quality may be had in a novel, quality may also be achieved through a twitter account.

The real problem, it seems, is the ever growing library of techniques that may be used in communicating ideas and concepts. We as a species have far more ways for communicative dissonance than any other species on the planet(although this would probably have been true in ancient times as well, but the point stands). I don’t suppose that an individual can divide his time equally between all of the mediums that fight for his attention. Furthermore, there is the risk of societal fracture, where subsets of a culture diverge towards different mediums, ultimately becoming incompetent to communicate through other mediums, perhaps even losing their ability wholesale.

Such a drastic event might not happen, or if it would happen, the rate of technological change as well as social change would interfere with a simple linear development of such a strong force for speciation, so it is likely that even in the above scenario, the cohesion of the species would be maintained. What is really needed then, is to come to terms with the underlying stresses that the real problem causes. This is the human resistance to change. In reality, resistance to change might be chalked up to the simple law of Inertia, but in the case of a civilization, the rate of change in such a culture yields to an unusual property. To explain: Once an object is set in motion, it will stay in motion until something slows it down. In the case of human affairs, changes to the cultural outlook tend to proceed at the same rate. The difficult occurs when one realizes that multiple changes to a cultural outlook reinforce each other and multiply each others effects. As a result, any civilization will change at a constant rate only if precisely one change is acting upon that society at any given time.

Unfortunately, changes in a society tend to stay in motion much longer than it takes for changes to become commonplace. The addition of even a single cultural change while another change is in the process of unwinding is enough to set off the largest chain reaction I can concieve of. Furthermore, it is immensely more likely that as two changes are reinforced by each other, that a third change will occur in the reinforced length of time in which the original changes operate, and so on ad infinitum. This causes not only a domino effect, but an accelerating domino effect, to which changes occur faster and with higher frequency.

This situation explains why, that as civilization has progressed from the textual era to the modern era, different mediums of communication have contracted to allow further and further brevity in their expression. The analogy might express itself well through the picture of the human neurological system. For example, a single neuron recieving a single “ping” from another neuron elsewhere in the brain will not be able to make much use of that electrical discharge. It is only through the reception of thousands and perhaps millions of electrical “pings” that a single neuron can then send a relevant message elsewhere to the brain, and of course that message will be in the same form. This structure allows for an increased efficiency of processing data in the brain as a whole. In much the same way, meaningful discourse of a civilization that is undergoing extremely rapid changes must restructure itself into shorter and shorter “bursts” of activity.

If we consider the burst-like nature of discourse in the western world, we may compare and contrast such an image with the smooth contemplative nature of shared information in previous eras, where a letter of a manuscript was not shared until the writer had throroughly digested the information, and replies and critiques of any shared information required just as much time and thorough digestion. This leads me to believe that meaningful discourse is undergoing a type of “stretching process,” where no single individual contributes absolutely meaningful dialogue, but as a whole the efficiency of the system is improved.

There is, however, a troubling concern. In any society where individuals act like this, any awareness of meaningful content generated by individuals will rely on some greater “super-structure” generated from the aptly named “hive-mind” of collective social interaction. This is perfectly illustrated in the fact that the prefrontal cortex of the human mind is needed to gain awareness and conscious realization of the underlying processes of the rest of the nervous system. It is worth pointing out that in such a parrallel scenario on a cultural scale, individual people are more that far likely to lose any conscious appreciation for the world around them. Ultimately, the chatter between any two particular humans might become frivolous, irrelevant, and most importantly, unconscious. In effect, the human individual will have been submerged into a kind of global nervous system, where an individual human is dumd and chatty, and only the resulting superstructure that develops as a result of this chatter would have conscious concupiscience.

Perhaps this is exactly what always on-computing desires. It is certainly a fantastic wet dream, the holy grail, of information technology. But perhaps this won’t be as bad as we make it out to be. In a universe filled with chaos, the only assured eventuality is the infinite rise of complexity, so perhaps a global, self-aware hive mind is only the next step in universal evolution.

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