Science fiction is full of instances of the ‘hive mind’, a collective consciousness shared across small groups or even entire species of beings. The narrative varies: sometimes they act as one individual through many bodies, and sometimes they have distinct personalities but share their thoughts through some form of telepathic communication.
While we’re a long way from telepathy, you can see the parallels between the latter description and the current generations of heavy social media users. We freely share many of our thoughts across the networks to our friends and family wherever they are. As a result I know what my friends are thinking, what they are doing (or have been doing) and where they are.
Some people are clearly more open than others: I consider myself a fairly heart-on-the-sleeve sort, but I can’t imagine sharing some of the updates (or pictures) posted by some in my network. But I can see that level of broadcast intimacy becoming increasingly the norm. It feels very in sync with the current culture of emoting, present in music, celebrity revelations, lifestyle magazines and newspaper columns.
And as the friction involved in sharing updates becomes lower, I can see us sharing more and more. Some of it will be automated (such as location), much of it will be banal. But it will all contribute to a kind of background hum that gives us an extra sense of what is going on with our connections. We are already developing and using meta analysis tools that will help us sift meaning from this hum: just look at trends on Twitter if you want to see the most popular memes circulating the earth.
Where will this all end? Well if you take my rosily positive view of the world, it could all work out quite nicely. Tying this flight of fancy back to present day issues, imagine a global consensus based on the collected thoughts of the species. A grand, global, technologically-inspired version of proportional representation. It would provide an interesting take on democracy.
I just hope our judgement — and our wit — can keep pace with the advances of technology.
[This blog posts finishes a train of thought started on the way home from FiveLive last night talking about the fact that young people are switching from SMS to instant messaging according to a report from Mobile Youth. My take? Not surprising given that IM is lower friction and lower cost.]