Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Internet as a Step in Earth’s Evolution - Part 1

First of all, let me say that this blog is not intended for everyone.

This is a blog where I first want to discuss where our technology and civilization came from, how it came to be this way, and by doing so, share everyone's thoughts and comments, then in some time from now, advancing the subjects to our current technological situation, where things look a bit complicated, and after that, try to reach to an as-accurate-as-can-be prediction about the future of our technology.

My dream is to get everybody's feedback as I proceed, and my ultimate goal is reaching a point where all of our thoughts shape something new and we all proceed together to find "what's likely to happen next." When I say feedback, I don't mean "keep up the good work" kind of stuff. I want to know what in my text, triggers what in your head. Did it make you remember a story? an experience? a memory? or triggered some new thought? If you share it, I'll be the happiest guy on earth.

But to begin with, I'll share my views on different things, and wonder how everyone sees those matters.

If you feel bored, intimidated or something-ed by the things in here, please let me say that this is in no way my intention, and this means that I clearly couldn’t make myself clear in your mind, maybe you should give up reading for now and, if this ever draws your attention again, try to reconnect at another time, maybe another time where things get a bit more interesting.

In this beginning article, I want to share my views on "surprising" effects of "new technology", "innovation".

In doing that, I would like to let you know that I’ll use some resources of “precompiled information” that some great people have gathered during the last few decades of our civilization.

The first and most important of them is the unmistakably-britishly creative science historian, Mr. James Burke, without whose work, it would take me maybe another year maybe two to “realize” what was going on. After reading this article (or maybe even before) I would recommend that you somehow get hold of his series “Connections”, “the day the universe changed”, and the sequels to the Connections series, “Connections 2 and “Connections 3”, as well as various speeches he gave at various places. You can find all these documents online from a dvd shop or even free, if you know where to look.

As to set the ground for what I will say, I’d like to start with a few examples of what I’m trying to say when I’m talking about a “connection”. Because I’ll be talking about connections, a lot.

In the years after the fall of Rome, a kind of chaos was covering all of Europe. The roman highways and roads were full of bandits and “bad things” so people would not cross them. Except the church people. They maintained their communications at all costs.

Even in the beginning of the 13th century, the Church had set up an amazing communication network that linked every corner of Europe, any bishop in any church in europe, could send a message to any other bishop in any other church in Europe through the “Center”. [Kind of like.. say.. ICQ.. A bit slower, though. Receiving a reply to your simplest query could take months.]

This created a “filtered down” information cycle/surge Say you’re a bishop in rome and you’re trying to figure out how the things around you work, nature for example, you “experiment” with the material you’ve got: dirt, water, some different plants, etc. You make “tools” to conduct your experiments, you find out about hillside terracing, growing vine on bad land, working the watermills, creating water canals etc.. you share your data with every other bishop around europe. The “good thing” you find out about, gets to the other guys, and triggers their minds to do something even more crazy.. like, i don’t know, gearing systems? Using the cam to hammer down things? You name it.

So they were the best wine, wool, fruit producers all around Europe. They were “managing” themselves, had specific times for specific chores, they were reading, producing “information” and innovating and triggering change by triggering each other’s imaginations.
[Funny how things work out at the end.. the Church being an oppressor of innovation and stuff..]

Anyway, what do we have so far? The “dark ages” are about to come at an end because of the church being what it is and producing high quality material at some very reasonable prices so everyone gets access to “quality goods” and finally trading is profitable again.

So what do you need at this point? Some “novelty”, som “new gizmo” to enter the market right? Right. It does. It comes from china aaaaand our superstar is: The Loom! Direct from china, where it’s used to create incredible patterns to imitate the nature, into the heart of wool-producing, church-driven, systematic Europe.

It causes a boom and immediately causes a problem. The new loom is producing goods so fast, that the wool producers [read: The Church] can not keep up with the demand. Because, at the time you’re spinning the wool all by your hands . It took hours to make one simple roll of woolen thread. So it was a riot.

But then, apparently in no time, some Great Adventurer comes from China with exactly what’s needed: The Spinning Wheel!

As now you can use your feet to spin the wheel, it’s a child’s toy to produce woolen threads that would keep up with the demand in the industry.

Hooray?

Nope. The “Classical” clothmakers cry out. They say that the new loom & spinning wheel combo will “put people out of work”! well.. it does : )

And as soon as everyone realizes they can get their hands on the new technology [That is, when it’s introduced to the market at a reasonable price (replicated by blacksmith or a carpenter or whoever)] they start using it. And the places where it’s used... I must say.. got very, incredibly.. rich.

So rich that they had time for carnivals, games, theatre, high-tech music, automated church bells (operated by the same mechanism that operated the watermill hammers, the cam) fancy dresses... and they set up fairs, to get to see “all the alternatives”. All producers from all around Europe went to the fairs in different places of the continent. By the mid 14th century, everyone was so happy that they couldn’t foresee what would come next. Well, they probably wouldn’t anyway.

At no time, it was *bloody freeeeezing* out there. Rainy and dark summers, freezing winters happened for some years. Bad harvests, not enough food to even supply the existing population, let alone the incoming traders. As it went down, so did the fairs, trade routes and everyone went back on to the business of “surviving”.

During that time, the worst that could happen was “any other bad thing”. And when it happened.. boy, it was just a massacre of the human race all accross europe.

“The Black Death” it was called, and it wiped out 1/3 of all Europe’s population. 40 million people are believed to be killed by the plague. No one knew where it came from, no one knew what to do and how to stay alive. A random factor was in the game.

Well it was not unexpected, when you come to think about it, all that people coming from different places on earth, bringing with them, different animals, different bacteria, different “things”, the moment you were weak, you were vulnerable to an organism that your body wasn’t accustomed with. And well, this was not anything small either. Once you were infected, certain death was to follow within 24 to 48 hours.

For four years, everyone lived in a state of panic and fear so when it was over, they went totally and completely insane.

Everyone was “holding to life”, they started having fun all around. They bought the most expensive dress they could afford, went to parties, drank, drank and then drank some more. Life all around Europe was one long unending party. (Some wise guy once said that there could be a party that floated and caused some resource problems on some other planets but, for now, he’s out of our subject. Always in our hearts though.)

Anyway that apetite for high technology (dresses) showed itself differently on different classes. The upper classes, went with silk and intricate gold wires. The middle classes were the wool guys. And the lower classes were wearing linen. It was cheap, but it was nice. And anyway, everyone was wearing it. The underwears, the bed sheets, the hats.. all linen.

What’s linen? Its a cloth made of plants’ fibers. It’s very cheap, and being so, when you wear it out, you throw it. So the guy who collects bones for fertilizer, becomes your “rag & bone man”. Why? Because, there’s another thing that’s being made of plant fibers..

Yes, paper.

You cut your linen rags in very little pieces so they’re practically fibers again, then you pound them with water-powered hammers in water until they’re kind of like a gum, and then you spill the gum on a wire mesh, voila! One big sheet of paper. You then squeeze out the water, and you have all the paper you need!

So, the price of paper is virtually.. free.

Now, the black death is just over, everyone’s high on survival, all the people who died in the plague, left their possessions to the living. So there are some heritage cases everywhere around europe. And we virtually have all the paper we need to do the “paperwork” necessary.

But.. we have a problem. The black death wiped out one third of the population. So we don’t have enough people who can.. “write” on the paper. We’re in a big, big problem.

That an innovative jeweler, called Johann Gutenberg, solves the problem by putting bits and pieces from his own field and some chinese-tech knowledge together to create something totally unexpected, totally crazy, and with effects that even he himself wouldn’t have imagined.

The printing press was something so wild that Guttenberg, who thought he’d sell some bibles and that would be that, was amazed when he got the first reaction.

What followed was people running around europe with their printing press machines on a cart pulled by something, went from town to town, village to village, and ask people if they needed anything printed. They printed bibles, sure. But some of them made copies of the printed things for themselves too.

And when by almost the same time, the Ottomans have invaded Constantinople (Istanbul now) and sent all greek scientists running, the only place for them to run was italy, via see travel.

And the person who greeted them there, was Manulius. The guy that made it all possible, by printing every-single-greek-book he could. He first published grammar books and dictionaries. Then he published all the books he could get his hands on. Oh sure he made a lot of money, yes. But he triggered something irreversible: Everyone had access to all the knowledge that were!

And that was for only once, because once that knowledge went to another corner of the continent, and caused something there to change, and that change triggered other things out there, that means that the subject is “specialized” and you will understand, absolutely nothing of it anymore.

That’s how the first gap between the “specialist” and the “guy on the street” widened a bit more than its usual pace. It “sped up” if you’d like to say.

The renaissance follows, of course. Grand buildings, artworks, “perspective” is discovered, people are reading, reading and then reading some more. They find out ways to get more “profits” out of everything, to create more change.

Well.. the church is not really ok with the idea, you know, everyone reading and that stuff. They try to ban it, but how will you ban something that apparently everyone –armed with new knowledge- can build in their homes? They say, “this printed press thingy will make reading easy for people who have no business reading!”. Well, it does.

A German guy named Luther, says “well.. the things you say... don’t seem true to me?” and columbus’s re-discovery of America helps a fat load to the Church.

It’s not in the fundamental databases you know, Aristotles and the Bible? They don’t say anything about another continent out there? What the hell is happening here? And when people start to carry plants, animals, whatever they can get their hands on back to Europe, well, whatever they bring back, that doesn’t appear in the databases either? So? There’s apparently something wrong, right?

Right.

So noone can not be sure about anything now. We know for sure that our two fundamental databases may be, totally, unspeakably, wrong.

So everyone doubts everything. And when some wise-ass French guy called René Descartes comes out of nowhere and says “Don’t take anything for granted. Split the problem to its simplest, undivisible, tiniest bits and solve the problem from there up.”, he lets the earth fall to the hands of inevitable specialization, “resolution”, innovation and change, and then some more change, that triggers some other change..

You see what I mean by “connection” right? When the human mind is involved, every change triggers other changes around it, Mr. James Burke calls it the “ripple effect of change” and I don’t see any reason to try to find a new name for it. The change creates ripples, around the “communication lines” of its “fire up” points.

In the old times, it was limited. The information you produced traveled only between people you knew. If some innovation found its way to our day today, it means that the people who created them had good “connections”, knew a lot of people, or knew people who knew lots of people.

Then it became gradually more expanding. With our growing communicative abilities, first the telegraph, then the phone, the Internet and the cell-phone at the same time, we could share our information with more and more people.

Now that we virtually linked our brains together over the internet, even if it’s with limited capabilities [you know, being limited to text, or audio or video] we can convey our thoughts to others in virtually no time.

So the ripple effects of even our slightest of innovations, can be unexpected, untrackable.. What can you say about the thoughts of a friend, when you rant to him about the difficulty you’ve had tying your shoes that day and that someone should at last find a solution to that problem? Maybe this triggered some thought he had the other day in his mind and he started telling you about some shoelace he saw somewhere, and that triggers some other idea at your mind and you find, at one point that, you’ve already solved the problem, you’ve created a new kind of shoelace maybe?

If you “realize” your creation, maybe it will track some guys attention and he will want to use it for the new shoe model he’ll bring in the market. And voila, everone has access to it and you don’t know what it can trigger in whose mind.

Well, not until now at least. Today, we can find out who’s thinking what about any subject by posting a blog on the net, having people comment on it etc..

We’re practically so close to being able to work like a “brain”, where every neuron has a say on every other neuron’s decisions, not “do this” but, “there’s a related data about that subject over here”, “oh and there’s some other out there” and creating a “democratic” platform, that each of the neurons are the voters and the decision-makers.

Why don’t we? That’s the next issue.

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