Let's begin today with a backwards glance. We're just over halfway through the 23 part series; so far we've covered quite bit of ground. Here's a quick graphic review:
Today's topic is a fun one, but before I start, here's BLATANT SCREAMING DISCLAIMER: (The title of today's post is intended to provoke thought and debate. I am well aware of the fact that this topic is often treated with starry-eyed breathlessness and a lack of scientific rigor. My intent is to simply to conduct a thought experiment, not to invite you to join the Borg)
First things first, let me explain what may otherwise feel like a jarring segue from Ponzi Schemes and the Financial System to a discussion of the internet as a brain. In developing this series, I've looked at how societies have developed, how technology has affected how we think about the future and the effect of these technical innovations on media and commerce. Once I reached yesterday's topic, I was surprised that how fuzzy the line was between a Ponzi or Pyramid scheme and the international financial system. I'm not yet sure where I come out with respect to the rage of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, but something generationally defining is happening and about a broken economic system with a message spreading at net speed.
At a fundamental level (jump in here economists), both Ponzi Schemes or Health Finanacial Markets only work insofar as participants trust in the system and have faith that debts will be honored. (I covered this in detail in "The Future of Money") . I remember in 2008 during the Financial Collapse watching the headlines in the WSJ grow daily to larger and larger typeface. Running a startup at the time, each days headline made me queasier and queasier so I wrote a short piece for AdAge called "In Shaky Times, Relax". Looking back on it 3 years later, it seems both naively hopeful and creepily accurate:
"Financial institutions are repositories of trust, which they accumulate, hold and invest in the form of investors and depositors' money. As soon as the trust placed in them erodes, the funds quickly follow. The phenomenon we're witnessing right now is the result panic-amplifying feedback loops that happen in our highly networked world.This is the the societal equivalent of a healthy person who knows he will drop dead if his heart rate exceeds 160 beats per minute. Everything is good unless he starts thinking about it. And his heart-rate rises. Which worries him. And his heart rate rises and rises and then . . .pow.. . . . .The reality is that nobody will escape unscathed because we are all so fundamentally interconnected. "
No discussion of the web's evolution towards sentience would be complete without Kevin Kelly's epic talk at the 2007 TED Conference entitled "The Next 5000 Days of the Internet". In it he masterfully chronicles the first 15 years of the web and compares it's quantitative elements to the circuitry and memory of a brain. I recommend watching the whole thing, but for me the pull quote comes 5 minutes in - despite it's immensity, the Internet (in 2007) was roughly the size of 1 human brain.