I’m not going to do my usual “links everywhere” for this one, because I’m just throwing down my thoughts here, and I’d like to know what you think about it. “Fingerthinking,” from brain to paper, without any filters in between. Not just what I’m doing now, but what we all do online, all of the time.
A New Way of Thinking?
I’m no neuroscientist. I don’t know a lot about how the brain works, beyond the things we all know, because we learn them in school. Our brain is made up of neurons, and our thoughts are carried by electro-chemical processes (I’m not entirely sure what that means, if I’m going to be honest). I’m sure that a lot of what we learn is “toned down” for the benefit of people who don’t have eight years of specialized schooling, but here’s one thing I’m fairly certain about — because it’s always heavily impressed upon me: different parts of the human brain handle different tasks that add up to what we like to think of as “one thing,” but it really isn’t.
For example, the ability to understand spoken language does not automatically correlate with the ability to reproduce it. Chimpanzees are intelligent, tool-making animals with rudimentary societal behavior. They can learn to understand some level of spoken instruction, but they cannot reproduce it themselves, despite having the physical parts that are necessary “from the neck down.” They “can” speak, except they can’t, and no amount of instruction will change that.
Until they develop that part of the brain, which is entirely possible — we did it, at some point — they won’t be capable of speaking. Pointedly, without that part of the brain, we could do a lot of things. We could WRITE, for example, if we were somehow able to grasp the concept of language without first being able to understand the concept of speaking. If we all woke up to tomorrow without that little speech center in the brain, notebooks would become popular again, as everyone quietly wondered what was going on (or made weird moaning sounds, but that’s weird; I prefer to think that we’d be quiet).
People often refer to internet subcultures as having “an opinion,” and nobody really questions that. On occasion, the relevance of that opinion is questioned, but as a general rule, the idea of a particularly popular website, group, or even “the internet” itself “thinking” about something doesn’t seem to inherently rub people the wrong way. I used to think that this was ironic, until it occurred to me that it might actually be right on the money.
The Superorganism: A Collective Unconscious
Cities are sometimes referred to by scientists as being “superorganisms.” Rush hour is like the pulsing beat of a heart, and it keeps time with natural rhythms: if a single living organism of the kind we commonly recognize as being alive were to reach the mass of a city, its heart would beat about twice per day.
It’s a widely-recognized and often-bemoaned fact that people communicate in an unfiltered manner online. This is often chalked up to anonymity, but that isn’t always the case. Recently, I started publishing content online under my real name, which you’re aware of if you’re already here reading this (hi there, sexy).
Some of that content is X-rated stuff, like my (to date) only published book, The Death of Constance. I made a conscious decision to publish under my own name, for a number of reasons. That’s not universal (pointedly, my co-author uses a pseudonym) and I thought, at the time, that I was bringing my two worlds together. Here’s the thing, though: my real-life attitudes haven’t changed. My perspective isn’t any different. I still feel just as “eh” about crossing over from the internet to reality… but the other way around is just fine. I’ll talk about anything online, with people who know me personally, and then (in person) I’ll want to avoid certain subjects with those same people.
The only “barriers” online are those I maintain intentionally, while in “real life” the barriers, the filters, are all unconscious. The more authors I talk to, the more widespread this phenomenon seems: it isn’t simply anonymity that causes people to act the way they do online. There’s some part of our brain that’s involved in spoken communication which filters, and it’s not present in writing. Some level of empathy, some emotional connection, for better or for worse, isn’t activated — when it’s our fingers that do the talking.
I don’t have a lot of experience with speech-to-text, so I’m not taking that into consideration. At some point, however, I’ll have to give it a try. I think it might be interesting to factor in those results: would they bear out my observations? I think that they would: I think the emotional responses we experience when dealing with people face-to-face might be muted, but would still exist, whereas otherwise they are entirely absent.
Before the internet, when I did most of my writing with a pen and a notebook, I used to jot down my idle thoughts and curiosities — much as I now do on social media. I’d record my stronger reactions to certain topics, and in doing so I found them much easier to understand. Writing about them, and reading about them — even reading others’ responses to them — didn’t get the same level of emotional involvement that I felt in speaking with other people.
A Hive Mind?
People jokingly refer to “the hive mind” with regard to those internet opinions I mentioned earlier. However, I don’t think that’s entirely fair — not anymore. I think, on some level, that we’re all a part of a collective unconscious, which manifests itself through our shared interactions on the internet. We’re the neurons of a hive mind structure, which is connected by wires and electrical signals in a fashion every bit as real and literal a thing as the human brain is.
What are the implications of this? I’m not sure, to be honest. We feed the hive mind a lot of crap, and even a genius needs data to work with. Our hive mind is blind and deaf; it only knows what we put into it directly, and that’s what it has to work with. Through countless millions of interactions, twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, certain conclusions filter to the top which — upon closer examination — defy attempts at recognizing a specific origin. These are the processed conclusions of a super-brain, of which we are all tiny constituent parts, making conclusions based upon the streams of input with which it is provided.