Hivemind: It’s No Coincidence

hivemind1I don’t believe in coincidences.  They are the transparent devices of CSI (in its many incarnations) and bad mystery novels.  Over the years, I’ve found that when random acts are connected for no apparent reason, there’s usually a reason.  That’s not to say that I think our lives are preplanned by three beautiful maidens casually spinning and snipping yarn.  However, I do believe that there are way more patterns to life than we’re willing to admit.  Coincidences are just those patterns boiling to the surface.  Let me demonstrate.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve had three different techno conversations with three distinctly different people.  (FYI, two of them were with people less cyber-savvy than me.)  I did not initiate these conversations nor were they planned in any way.  Yet, all three, although totally unrelated, somehow ended up scolding social media for discouraging dissidence and promoting groupthink and behaviour.  No big deal, right?  Social media is a popular topic, and these days, it’s catching the blame for everything from childhood obesity to the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi.  However, think about it.  What are the chances?  Three unconnected conversations come up with a consensus — the straightjacket of groupthink — when that very consensus is an unwitting demonstration of groupthink itself.  Irony, yes; coincidence, no — because here’s the hot fudge on that ice cream sundae.  In each of the conversations, the person I was talking to (texting, in one case) used the term “hivemind.”  I realize “hivemind” is a perfectly acceptable internetism, but again, what are the chances?  Especially when two of the three conversationalists shouldn’t  even know the word, let alone what it means.  The laws of anti-chance simply don’t allow for this kind of randomness.

So if this isn’t just a coincidence (which it isn’t) what pattern are we seeing?  The obvious one is that people are concerned that social media promotes groupthink or the “hivemind.”  D’uh!  Take a look!  After you’ve been “awesome” and “amazing” on Facebook, the only other thing you can do is “Like” or “Share.”  There’s no icon for “Bugger off!”  The mere fact that people are mentioning “hivemind” in conversation tells us that, beyond the constant hype that social media is an eclectic gathering of all ideas — a virtual Classical Athens, if you will — there’s an uncomfortable awareness that this might not be strictly true.  People are beginning to worry that our cyber-social world is actually just an assortment of techno rich primitive tribes.  The concern is we are simply digital Cro-Magnons gathered around our backlit campfires with other members of our own group, who, by selection, share our values, opinions and ideas: no others need apply.

This is not a problem in itself.  Generally, like our heavy-browed ancestors, we prefer the security of the clan.  People have alwayshivemind been willing to adhere to the restrictive nature of a group (even a virtual one) in exchange for its safety.  Unfortunately, the by product of this adherence is a suspension of our individual egos to conform to the socio-ego of the tribe.  People are uneasy about this kind of subordination, even if they don’t fully understand it.  That’s why it’s coming up in unrelated conversations.

It’s no coincidence that I was told by three different people, in rapid succession, that social media is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Nor is it happenstance that they all agreed that the monolithic socio-ego of things like Facebook and Twitter are overpowering mere individuals.  The problem is they all used the same terminology – “hivemind.”  And that was no coincidence, either.

Children of the Net

facebook3There’s a funny little thing happening right now that is going to change our society forever.  However, unlike most changes history has encountered, this one is not the deliberate result of layers and layers of knowledge.  This new phenomenon is merely an unintended by-product of what was once called the Information Superhighway.

If you are of an age, you remember the family photo albums.  These were where the hard copies of your family’s memories were warehoused.  They had pictures of aunts and cousins you’d never heard of, a bunch of black and white faces with no names, Christmas trees, birthdays and even the vacation from hell.  They were a permanent record of you standing there like a bow-tied midget at some wedding, or flashing your baby bum.  All of the good shots and geek shots of the life that was yours.  The photo albums were the repository of you and your family’s consciousness, collected and bound and hidden, as if they were precious, in a closet somewhere.  And precious they were.   There is more than one story of parents braving natural disasters to save the photographs or divorcing couples arguing over baby pictures.  As sentiments go, pretty much everybody prizes photographs above all else.  They were yours.  They belonged to you.  In essence, you owned your own memories and could distribute them (share, if you will) as you saw fit.  But that was then, and this is now.

Siblings using laptopsSince the time of the photo album, our society has gone through some radical changes: the Internet, digital cameras, email, texting, smartphones, Facebook and Twitter.  As the children of the Internet were exploring these new Apps and devices they were recreating themselves as public personae – picking and choosing the best and the brightest for their public faces.  Straddled across generational lines (their earliest pictures might still be in the photo albums) they could maintain a semblance of privacy in a tsunami of social networking.  Bad hair days were deleted, not uploaded; shoes were shined and despite the ubiquitous “duck face,” everyone put their best foot forward.  However, even as they were shaping their newfound publicity they were also growing up and starting to have children of their own.

The children of the children of the Internet are being documented as no other generation.  Even before they were born, they swarmed through cyberspace as baby bumps.  (God, I hate that term!)  Now, as they teeth, talk and waddle around the coffee table, smartphones are snapping every move they make, and with a few finger stokes, uploading their antics across the planet.

facebook1This is the Facebook Generation.  They are the first generation to be born in the Internet fishbowl and raised in the public domain.  Nothing is sacred.  They can neither run nor hide.  Every developmental step and stutter is being recorded, and the results are available to anyone with a Web connection.  As of right now, their individual collective memories, so guarded and cherished by past generations, are no longer their own.  For the first time in history, an entire generation will not have the option of deciding for themselves how they want the world to see them.  They’re already on permanent display.  This will have a profound effect on their future.  To them, privacy will no longer be a question open to debate; it simply will not exist.

Without thinking, we have sacrificed our children’s privacy on the altar of Social Networking.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  The situation is what it is, and there’s no turning back the clock.  However, by denying our kids the right to stumble and make mistakes in private, we have condemned them to live their lives in the public eye.  At this point, there’s no way of knowing how well they’re going to handle this relentless public scrutiny.  However, I, for one, am glad my teenage friends couldn’t download the details of my potty training and Elizabeth McTavish never saw me looking like a toad in that stupid sailor suit.