I have been thinking a lot about secret societies of late. Yalie jokes notwithstanding, they’re nothing new, really, but this is nonetheless a trend to watch for 2009 for reasons I explain below.
As Seth Godin would argue, we human have operated in smaller groups since the very beginning, with shared objectives in mind: “Tribes are groups of people aligned around an idea, connected to a leader and to each other. Tribes make our world work, and always have.”
We’ve got 2.0 versions of course, everything from Founder’s Brunch or to flash mobs like those invoked by Improv Everywhere to the awesomesauce shenanigans of Larry Chiang. And these are not to mention the innumerable flavors of BOF (birds of a feather) gatherings like Open Coffee Club and Lunch 2.0 and FooCamp (and indeed unconferences generally). Our secret (or not-so-secret, as the case may be) societies might communicate via e-mail newsletter, SMS, or purely word of mouth.
Sometimes, as so often is the case in my own personal experience, we create these societies in an entirely ad-hoc manner, and almost by instinct, cultivating certain sectors of our social graph, seeking high concentrations of desirable qualities, filtering the wheat from the chafe with often nothing more than a knowing conversation and a palatable sense of shared altruism.
The point is that we’re looking for meat on the bone as it were (the signal in the noise, to use an overused term), and these secret societies are all in one form or another “interest networks" that aim to more efficiently and productively put us in touch with the things we care about most.
Why? Because as online communities become more and more mainstream (and crowded), volume navigation goes hand-in-hand with self-preservation. Aggregation and filtering are obviously a huge part of the public-facing version of this task, but it’s the private nature of secret societies that makes them inherently useful for getting things done. These groups intentionally create barriers to entry (intellectual, social, geographic, purely structural) in a world — Web 2.0, namely — where the tearing down of those same barriers has become religion (and in some cases, big business).
Where there’s zig, there’s sure to be zag;)
I’m also noticing that offline, real-world articulations of those communities are becoming more and more important as the online-offline divide disintegrates into something of a continuum. Today’s interactions on the Web are undoubtedly rich, but it’s in the performance of our relationships (and our ideas and beliefs) that they are ultimately made explicit — and therefore real (to bastardize/misrepresent Robert Brandom).
To wit: unconferences are popping up left and right. Tweetups are now common practice. Location-based services allow us to harness the serendipity of geography. These offline interactions serve to solidify and anchor our relationships as “Web meets world" (and indeed, vice versa, as evidenced by the predictable flurry of post-gathering activity on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.)
Increasingly too, there are more overt efforts at more formally stitching together brain and machine, online and offline, ranging from modest early offerings like Fitbit to more much more ambitious undertakings, all of which portend a new dynamic for the future in which the trust game changes completely, even further solidifying secret societies and communities of practice as the backchannel of choice for a new generation of hyperconnected Web workers.
Congrats to Michelle Greer + Austin vs. Portland Bloggy Smackdown!
Michelle Greer, one of Austin’s top technology bloggers and a marketing bad-ass, will now be writing about our fair city for the Discovery Channel’s forthcoming Nerdabout property. Hells yeah! Michelle is incredible and I’m excited about the increased level of visibility for all of the cool stuff going on here in town.
Okay, okay. I’ll admit to having more than a little Portland jealousy, which isn’t helped by the fact that “brewtopia” is one of a select few cities that’s (nearly) as cool as Austin. Not to mention that Portland’s most excellent Amber Case is joining Michelle Greer at Nerdabout.
In fact, Mr. Kirkpatrick and crew, if you’re listening, maybe it’s time for a Austin vs. Portland bloggy smackdown. I hereby propose a bloodthirsty match of _________________ [insert backyard game of choice here] during SXSWi 2009.
This diagram will be further developed, but it’s a nice articulation IMHO of the value proposition of Web 3.0 (as opposed to other, similar efforts, which instead focus on technical concerns and definition wars).
Feedback appreciated. Special thanks to Rebecca Ewing for her help in visualizing what the heck Juan and I were blabbering on about;)
I wanted to point you towards a most excellent piece/counterpoint to Kevin Kelly and Ray Kurzweil, whose own projections on this topic were top of mind at the Singularity Summit last weekend.
Nova’s take on the future of collective inteligence and the global brain posits that the meaningful and mutually beneficial cooperation between humans and machines will never go away (as opposed to a purely technological singularity), and that conciousness, and self, lies fundamentally/categorically outside of the realm of machines (a view also sympathetic to Nova’s own Buddhist leanings):
"So the question I have been asking myself lately is how connected is consciousness to the physical substrate? And furthermore, how important is consciousness to what we consider intelligence to be? If consciousness is important to intelligence, then artificial intelligence may not be achievable through software alone — it may require consciousness, which may in turn require a different kind of computing system, one which is more connected (through bidirectional feedback) to the physical quantum substrate of the universe.
What all this means to me is that human beings may form an important and potentially irreplaceable part of the OM — the One Machine — the emerging global superorganism. In particular today the humans are still the most intelligent parts. But in the future when machine intelligence may exceed human intelligence a billionfold, humans may still be the only or at least most conscious parts of the system. Because of the uniquely human capacity for consciousness (actually, animals and insects are conscious too), I think we have an important role to play in the emerging superorganism. We are it’s awareness. We are who watches, feels, and knows what it is thinking and doing ultimately.”
Definitely worth a read. This progression resonates with me particularly because it agrees with the views of my favorite (modern, analytic) philisopher, John MacDowell, who likes to say that the cooperation between “receptivity and spontanaeity” (read: mind and world) is not even notionally separable. Which is to say that it’s in the black box of cooperation between what McDowell calls “scheme and given” that emprical knowledge happens.
We can’t reverse engineer empirical knowledge (much less the self, or consciousness) even if we can in fact reverse engineer the brain (this is the goal of cognitive computing, and something I definitely support) because the information to do so isn’t fundamentally available to us (or machines for that matter). We literally can’t get at it — the cooperation literally isn’t even “notionally seprable” — that is, it is not even conceptually parsable.
So don’t worry, inteligent agents are not going to replace you…just yet;)