Let me tell you whats up.
What if the most valued product/service in the world became something you didn’t use or had foreseen any use for yourself. That’s the first thought that came to my mind, when I heard that Facebook had bought Whatsapp, a cross platform instant messaging service*(thats how Wikipedia described it), for a whopping $19 billion. The fact that I didn’t use this particular “Mobile App”, made me question my own importance and relevance as a contributor to the world economy. I thought that I must have passed my sell by date as a potential target, or revenue creator for the corporations, and my need to exist was surely in question. My insecurity in regards to this situation was further justified, when I came to understand that the prevailing reason for this purchase was, that Facebook became worried about losing its younger user base. In danger of being deemed old & worthless, I downloaded Whatsapp, but it didn’t make me feel, any younger or any more valuable.
Setting aside my personal anxieties, and looking at this from a more general perspective, it worth considering how this purchase in the larger scheme of technological evolution, would affect humanity as a whole, and the way we continue to communicate in the future. I will try and see if I can hazard a guess.
Taking Marshall McLuhan’s statement as the basis from which to proceed, the idea that “technology is an extension of human organism, it faculties and behaviour”, it could be possible to foresee, how current capacities offered by technology, will continue to extend, progress, and evolve further in the future.
“During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electronic technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man -the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media” – McLuhan, 1966, p. 19
The idea stated by Marshall McLuhan is most eloquently portrayed in the 1968, movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick. Especially in the clip below, which is from the start of the movie, depicting the dawn of man, and the moment apes began to use tools, which in turn, culminated in the most crucial turning point in the human development, shifting the balance of power in favor of human, as well as within the human species themselves.
In the clip, a bone becomes a physical extension of the arm, which gets thrown in the air, and ultimately jump cuts to show a space ship, which looks morphologically very similar. The idea being portrayed could very well be, that since the dawn of man, human primordial instinct had been to reach for the stars, and extend himself into space, by any means.
“Only the creatures who dared to move from the sea to the hostile, alien land were able to develop intelligence. Now that this intelligence is about to face a still greater challenge, it may be that this beautiful Earth of ours is no more than a brief resting place between the sea of salt and the sea of stars. Now we must venture forth.” – Arthur C. Clarke. (Extract taken from Roadmap to interstellar flight by K.F. Long)
Arthur C Clarke who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, the book from which the movie was based, explored in majority of his other books, the concept of human evolution, advancing us into space, freeing us from our physical existence. He believed that the whole evolutionary process leads us to the far reaches of space, from the first living organism formed at central core of our planet, which then swam at the bottom of our oceans, before coming onto the land, crawling on all fours, until it lifted itself up, and hoisted its mind above the rest of its body, compelling it to look upwards from this world to another.
Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives. – Socrates
The whole of human existence and evolution seemed in a sense a way towards extending our physical and mental faculties, until we eventually render our material self obsolete, in order that we may break free from our physical state, into a transcendence disembodied collective state of our consciousness
Social networking services, we can assume, are as McLuhan considers, extensions of our cognitive functions, at the very cusp of discovering this very new frontier in human consciousness, more amplified, pronounced and unified, then we could have ever imagined individually. To illustrate this, I have tried to visualize it, through different stages of technological innovation in communication.
Men were migratory animals, but at one point in time, we stopped, and settled, establishing roots, that bound us geo-politically. With the invention of the Internet and Cellular mobile phones, we were able to recommence our nomadic existence, i.e. to free ourselves from the roots that restrained our feet to the ground and become mobile beings once again. Taking this as the basis from which to start, it is possible to see how we have continued to extend ourselves further above the ground and beyond, especially with the growth and usage of social networking sites as the most popular mediums of current human extensions.
Twitter asked us “What’s happening now?”, allowing us to communicate and share information in regards to situations happenings around our immediate environment. Facebook, went even further, and asked us, “What’s on your minds?” allowing us to articulate and share heretofore internalized thoughts, feelings and emotions, confession of sort. Later on, we found out, unbeknown to us, (well the majority of people who skipped the security settings when they set up the account), that all these individual thoughts, feelings, emotions, have been churned, measured and evaluated, to guide and help us be better consumers, so that we can think, and feel better. A cloud of information has formed above humanity, which we will totally depend and put faith upon to guide us to an immortal existence. One day this omnipotent entity, which we have created collectively, will tell us, “What should be on our mind”, and “what should be happening now”, hence we need not update our status, but sit back and submit to it almighty power. I will end this with an extract from the book “City and the Stars” written in 1956 by Arthur C. Clarke; who seem to have foreseen this end for us:
“For centuries the energy of matter had run the world until it too had been superseded, and with each change the old machines were forgotten and new ones took their place. Very slowly, over thousands of years, the ideal of the perfect machine was approached – that ideal which had once been a dream, then a distant prospect, and at last reality: No machine may contain any moving parts. Here was the ultimate expression of that ideal. Its achievement had taken Man perhaps a hundred million years, and in the moment of his triumph he had turned his back upon the machine forever. It had reached finality, and thenceforth could sustain itself eternally while serving him” – Taken from page 90, City and the Stars by Arthur C Clarke.