Mass personalization and customization have been with us for a while now. Stan Davis coined the term. What I haven’t heard yet is a term for exposing ourselves to the blogosphere: Personal perspectives distributed to the masses, let’s call it personal massization. I wonder that if we all begin to communicate via blog and social networks, broadcast ourselves universally ever more often, will it change our language, and change who we are? Is our ego going to start living in the cloud?
I’m just getting used to pulling up my Kimono of personal experience and opinions to the masses. So many questions. Do I write political opinions? Will someone disagree and blog block me from that next job or flame me across the blogosphere? Should I care? Where will my status line up with the other bloggers? Why are we so caught up with status, anyway?
Tom Wolfe believes that thinking about status is how we humans spend 95% of our time. He talks about this and more in a new interview piece on Seed with notable cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga. The part I enjoyed most of Wolfe’s”I am Charlotte Simmons.” were the parts that weaved neuroscience, psychology and philosophy and what it is to become a person. Just for the record, I think he’s right about the 95% figure for people on the North East Coast of the good old USA ;-), but maybe not so much in other areas. Nonetheless, he has a point. We are social creatures and we cannot help but measure ourselves against our fellow humans or even our expectations of ourselves. Not necessarily a bad thing, but as the structure of society evolves, it probably just gets in the way more than it helps.
So, anyway, here’s my thoughts and responses on Wolfe and Gazzaniga.
Gazzaniga’s question to Wofle: “Why are members of our species drawn to the fictional experience?”
My answer: Because everything people say is at least partially fiction. Because of our imperfect representational process, we always we need to sort it out. To hear a story is to have an experience that is not the storyteller’s, and therefor is of limited veracity to ourselves. Plus, we need to have a narrative to enter into the story.
We do learn from fiction, and often times (willing suspension of disbelief) we are inclined not to care a whole lot about the “truthiness” of something that is communicated. Learning through fiction can help us learn emotionally, and you can’t get that from nonfiction very easily. We get pulled in. We will soak it in nonetheless and then ponder not its veracity, or, more likely, its potentiality, or lack thereof. Stories still matter.
Wolfe, goes on to say in the article that, “Speech is an artifact. It’s not a natural progression of intelligence, in my opinion — we have to look only at the Pirahã for that. It’s a code. You’re inventing a code for all the objects in the world and then establishing relationships between those objects. And speech has fundamentally transformed human beings.”
Yes, language is a code, but not an artifact. Maybe its the sauce, but the sauce makes the dish. Fiction is the artifact of intelligence and language.
There are two steps in the evolution of mental modeling and language, akin to the evolution to object oriented programming and web services in modern computer-computer communication.
First, humans somewhere along the line likely gained the ability to codify mental representations of objects as pointers to a general form of that object, like a class. Second, those classes had to made available universally for communication and “reuse” of knowledge. That had to be put in a form that could universally call them.
Sharing of information is the key to the evolutionary advantage. The advantage of stories, in internal mentalese or told to someone via language – is in creating abstractions of things that happened in another time and another place. Only then can knowledge be applied in a new context, and thus stories and fiction become a necessary artifact.
By abstracting, we can apply that information elsewhere and answer important (in or long period of evolution as cavepeople) questions, like, “Where should we hunt? Where will we find shelter? Where did you, and therefore, where can I, fulfill Masolow’s hierachy of needs? We can ask not just Why?, but Who, What, Where, When and How as well.
For nearly 1 million years, I’ve heard, prehumans had a single stone tool. Apparently, there was no way to conceptualize or generalize a tool for use for other purposes or to modify it. It was just used the way it was used, and remained unaltered. The use was perhaps just instinctual, then, some lucky prehuman had the idea to teach and communicate about this tool in an abstract sense. Others that could abstract could develop new uses and eventually use symbols to refer to both the stone and its new uses. Then, someone with the right gene, the enabled the right abstraction layer at the right time, imagined the ability to use this stone for creating new tools, and eventually we were able to abstract all of these abstract thoughts into new tools. Our ancestors’ abstractions then allowed them to create models and look at how, what where when and why things happened. They could play out the scenes and go deeper into cause and effect.
These mental models, these buckets of something on a neural level, eventually became external manifestations of the models in rocks, drawings speech, words, and finally writing. Now these same things are happening today on the societal level as manifestations of code are evolving in an information ecosystem and people can begin to communicate at a deeper level with deeper context about themselves and what they are doing.
Now, instead of being limited to the narrative of the past and imagine, what if we could think in the realm of Markov Chains, at all the interlinking dependent variables that come together to create what we perceive as our stories, but in an expanded view.
Is there a software project to do the same thing in our own modern social networks and digital personnas in a similar way? Could a software pull all this together and create a 3D picture or model of all the things we interact with and come to know? What about on an enterprise level? With statistics to help us navigate our future direction? Could this make us more intelligent, have a broader perspective on our lives, our world and our relation to it? Brad Feld and the Glue conference apparently get it.
As far as the stuff on the Interpreter goes, I think that yes, we have a defect where we need to come up with a story for the reason that things happen. Taleb writes about this in “Fooled by Randomness“. This is one of the our unfortunate biases, we need to view the world from the perspective of a single actor and create stories to entertain this dillusion, and fiction, to some extent (accept for maybe that of Umberto Eco, which I find difficult to read). Reality is multifactorial, but we need an unfortunately linear narrative to make things cohesive to our own experience. This is changing.
Our value is ever more derived by how well we connect disparate forms of information, capital, relationships, and ideas, and still manage our time. How might we create something to facilitate this on an individual and organizational level? How will our language change when we communicate as such complex, nonlinear entities? When we become “massized”, where will “you” and “I” be? What will our stories look like?