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A single thought: Facebook and telepathy

By Richard Tonkin
Created 24/07/2010 - 11:44
A single thought: Facebook and telepathy
by Richard Tonkin [0]

I heard on the radio today that around one in every fourteen people in the world is now connected to Facebook. Being a science-fiction junkie, the notion turned my thoughts to tales of mind-to-mind contact, telepathy assisted by technology. Julian May did a set of books in the 80s about latent mind powers brought into operation by the wearing of a special collar. The series sold over ten million copies. Without doubt most of those readers (as Julian herself is) would be amongst the now 500 million Facebook users.

Another statistic: apparently Facebook users have an average of round a hundred and twenty "friends". In these clusters ideas are shared, images swapped, memories relived and futures planned by individuals not sharing the same physical reality. Everyone has the opportunity to convey much more than they do during conversations in the "real world". Read the words, see the pictures, hear the soundtrack... there's a depth of conversation that's not so easily shared over a bar. Listening with my "barmaid's ears" (old slang for the ability to listen to the conversation next down from the one you're having) I've noticed of late that many people around our pub, upon re-encountering each other in the flesh are continuing the conversations they began on the internet.

In the pub's corner of Facebook nearly five thousand people with a shared love of music keep track of the diverse genres they enjoy as they pass through the building. I put up clips of what's been and what's coming, crack dubiously humorous jokes and watch people who don't know each other comparing their experiences and uniting in anticipation. When we came to this place (in "reality") seventeen years ago we hoped that the shared conversations of musos from varied backgrounds would add new (and old) flavours to local music. I'm hoping that the Facebook tête-à-têtes between our punters might give the idea a gentle push.

I was truly surprised, watching a debate on telly, to hear former Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon stating a belief that "young people" had no interest in their privacy, having already given it up to places like Facebook. Remember that figure of an average 120 "Friends"? Talking in such circles is hardly broadcasting your soul to the cyberverse. Like the public and intimate modes of telepathic conversation suggested by May in her books, Facebook provides such tiers of privacy if used well, and the "kids" are cottoning on. In the initial honeymoon it was funny to see pictures of yourself at three in the morning during last Saturday's party. Now it's commonly regarded as impolite to publish pictures of people playing up without asking permission first. From the "real conversations" that follow Facebook dialogue everyone's beginning to realise how much information about them is being retained by others. I've noticed a greater choosiness of late in the intimacy-level of information that people are prepared to share. The conversation flows continue, but with the guardedness of ever-strengthening manners. In a realm of such interconnectivity the notions of personal privacy can only spread.

Now that we have audiovisually interactive mobile phones and permanently net-connected portable computers I wonder how far away a human-implantable Facebook Chip could be. Our heads already have cameras and microphones installed, so you'd only need a thought-to-font translator, video and audio uploading equipment and a Wi-Fi transceiver. With the flip of a mental (or physical) switch, any human could interact with the social network carried in their mind. With the development announced of a seven-atom computer circuit, the technology for Facebook Symbiosis could be installed so that you'd never notice it was there! And with the looming possibility of synthetic biological cells being able to function as data communication circuitry, the necessary gadgetry might soon be able to literally become a part of you.

The idea of technology assisting telepathy is far from new. Have you ever been thinking about someone just before they phoned you? An email from someone you'd been hoping to hear from for a while just after thoughts of them have crossed your mind? The thinking behind "telephone telepathy" is that it's the intent to communicate that creates a resonance between two minds. I experienced something that might well be the Facebook equivalent very recently. On the anniversary of my last visit to my old home town I was thinking sentimentally of the place, and in particular wondering of an old friend still living there whom I hadn't seen for many years. That was the day this friend decided to find my page and track me down. I don't think it was a coincidence. When you consider that even the invention of the phone was an act of synchronicity (Alexander Bell only narrowly beat someone else to the patent office) it's a fair bet that if so many things were occurring near-simultaneously before the advent of modern communication technologies, spreading thoughts and ideas via the new methods could only increase abundance of synchronous events.

Borrowing from a recurring idea in May's books, I've been thinking of an easy experiment in synchronised thinking.: As many of the five hundred million as can be online at the same time in the shared reality of Facebook joining together in saying one word to each other.

The word is "Hello". Who knows where things could go from there? The opportunity to try is too good to resist.

A word of warning: when May explored techno-augmented telepathy in fiction she came to a conclusion that the use of such technology as an evolutionary short-cut might prevent the evolution occurring. She could well be right. On the other hand, if future DNA manipulators could write the codes for such biological computer circuitry as would approximate a "Facebook Chip" into the human genome, might such an act be considered as a form of Darwinism? And if the Facebook software evolves into an idea, a programming sequence shared by those with the appropriate circuitry you might end up with a humanity that can "naturally" act as both individuals and as part of a group-mind – a gestalt.

Back to everyone saying hello to each other. Perhaps the anniversary of the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Centre could be the time to spread a couple of seconds of friendliness across the World? We may well be able to repair some of the damage caused by that event with a single thought. Given a year to plan and co-ordinate, such a thought-act on the tenth anniversary of world-wide unification in shock and fear could at the very least reduce the further harm to the psychological condition of humanity that the marking of the decade might create. And if everyone's "G'day" is accompanied by a belief that they're making the world a better place, faith moving mountains could well be achieved.

The old saying "with our thoughts we create the world" was conceived a long time before notions of nanotechnology. That's another story.

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