Simultaneous Publications

The networked mind is hard at work:

“There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday… The timing of the studies, from two well-regarded research organizations, appears to be coincidental.” –New York Times

Far from coincidental. Just one more example of multiple people around the world consuming the same media diet, exploring the same possibility space, and generating the same intellectual output at the same time. This is the visible activity of a super-consciousness. Continue reading

The Networked Mind

Several years ago, when blogs were young and the “blogosphere” was just beginning to get crowded, I came up with a neologism to describe it, the “clogosphere.” And what was the first thing I did with this burst of creativity? Turn to Google of course, to see if I was truly original. Unsurprisingly (in retrospect), there were already ten results for my clever new term. I cursed to myself, and began declaring to anyone who would listen that “If you think you’ve had an original thought, just google it and be humbled.”

from Cat and Girl by Dorothy Gambrell

So, you can imagine my surprise when I was reading one of my favorite web comics and they made the very same point about Google deflating your sense of creativity. My insight into creativity was applicable to itself in a very “meta” sort of way.

This is certainly “a condition of modern life,” but as a historian of technology I know how often the simultaneous emergence of an idea or invention has cropped up in the past. If you live in the United States you were taught that Thomas Edison invented the electric light, but at least half a dozen other people around the world are held in similar regard, including Joseph Swan in England and James Lindsay in Scotland. Continue reading

Living Technology

Technology and humanity go way back. Technology was there at our dawn, in sharp rocks and bone needles, in cave paintings and figurative sculpture. It’s an old trope that technology is what makes us human, that tools and language are what first set us apart from other animals. Now, however, as technology is beginning to reach human developmental milestones, such as tracking faces and recognizing speech, a growing number of people think that technology is alive. While I’m one of them, I think the idea of technology as a life form is just the beginning of the story. Beyond the superficial similarities between technology and life, there lies a deeper truth about technology and information. This truth goes straight to the heart of our future on this planet and our evolving relationship with technology. This is an old relationship indeed, so let’s begin with an old myth about technology. Continue reading