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A single thought: Facebook and telepathy

A single thought: Facebook and telepathy
by Richard Tonkin

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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Allow me just another quibble, with Richard's comments on Christine Nixon.

"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. "

Whatever we think of Christine Nixon, let's give her credit for some professional knowledge on the subjects of security and identity theft.  Talking to 120 "friends" is broadcasting your soul to the cyberverse.

I think it's unlikely that more sophisticated "kids" are going to change that.  They are only going to learn that it's a fact.  And the 120 are not a set disjoint from all other sets.

But sorry, I guess that's what Richard is saying in part.  The only problem is the assumption that the horde of "kids" as a horde will advance as Richard suggests.  Some individuals will.  And then Nixon's words will only apply to the rest.

On a social networking site I imagine there will be social fragmentation.  Perhaps no-one, other than police commissioners and some of their specialist subordinates, knows what's going on.

Oh, brave new world...

Eewww...Not sure I like all this shit - too easy for abuse to creep in.

Richard, a friend of ours at Facebook, Bronwyn Barnett, made a point of acknowledging an anti micro chipping site. For similar reasons, I suspect, I would be dubious of some of what you are suggesting, but I take it on board that I will (thankfully) be dead before the modern day Morlocks create a stack of mutoids as slave labor. 

Can I take that as a joke?

Michael, you are engaging in parody, right?

Facebook and Webdiary

Thanks for these adventurous thoughts, Richard. As I said on Facebook, Facebook may be the latest development in the evolution of Gaia as a being, a neurology in fact, within which no neurone on its own has much impact.

But adventures in thought aside, Facebook for my part has very much replaced the function Webdiary used to play, and I wonder to what extent the rise of social networking sites was the real decline of Webdiary.

As you say, a culture of courtesy has emerged and appears to be continuing to emerge. As editors I think we tried very hard (as you continue to do, bless you!) to engender a culture of courtesy, but we failed miserably, it must be said. Facebook has, rather than the mechanics of human editors, the mechanism of "delete friend", the ultimate sanction which anyone can apply at any time.

Webdiary's editing of grammar and spelling has certainly not been vindicated, and Facebook seems to get by reasonably with self-editing, but where we were vindicated I think is in the insistence on real names. This is also a strength of Facebook. You *are* in public life, of sorts, and must take responsibility for your contributions as a real person with real peers.

Unvindicated offenders

Hamish Alcorn: Webdiary's editing of grammar and spelling has certainly not been vindicated,

But I didn't notice that an offence occurred when gramer an speling was edited.

Am I splitting hairs?  Are you saying there is a rule which imposes too much of a burden on moderators, and so is causing Webdiary to fail?

It seems rather emphatic: "certainly not".  May the rest of us know what's going on here?

Facebook and Webdiary

For me one hasn't replace the other; more a case of the plethora of bloggers (good and bad), too many to watch, too much co-option by mainstream media and just not enough time to do it all. FB certainly provides a certain kind of public face but it is never very clear  who actually sees or looks at posts.

I still think that the internet is the best way to counter the normal media bias and selective coverage but on the other hand the diversity of options plays into their hands as well as people I think tend to fall back on the mainstream to try to keep up (maybe with or without the benefit of news.google.com for purposes of the wider picture).

I think you both did a great job keeping WebDiary ticking along. Thank you.

 FB also has a different kind of visibility as one must choose to enter it whereas WD is "public" by default. Different horses with some cross-over breeding.

In my own case I've tried to use (for example) the Lateline FB group but the anonymous editting in the background is controlled by the ABC and the commentary by FBers is spotty at best; not nearly as concentrated or as participatory as WD has generally been.

I think we have only begun to see the impact of the larger internet world in politics and feel certain there is much more we can do with it for good purposes (world level politics) so hopefully we can all continue to contribute to that evolution. I wish more professional journalists like Margo would work in this part of the internet world overtly and with pride.

As I said in my FB post, the slide of the ABC into commercial style news reporting and commentary is most disappointing and as the "editorial standard" slides into the lower denominator I think the main counter to the implicit bias and distortion of language can only be countered by the WD and FB worlds. I find myself increasingly angry that Aunty has slid this far, particularly around the political realm. The misuse of language, like Lateline's use of "assassination" with regard to the dumping of Rudd is an example, an assassination is what happened to the Kennedy brothers, JFK and Robert; what happened to Rudd was a dumping by the party which Lateline and other commentators conveniently forget is what does get elected in Australia and the leader, Rudd or Abbott/Turnbull/Nelson (gee only 3 dumped), is always subject to the party's assessment as to whether they are getting it mostly right or wrong. It wasn't pretty but it had been coming for months and it was no assassination; I have great sympathy for Rudd, he tried to do a lot but he let a lot of people down and the micromanagement has had many unhappy consequences.

As for Getup! and their move in the courts, good on them...but try to find coverage of that in the mainstream media. I haven't seen any reports on the progress of that but the change in the enrolment rules was in my view one of the most despicable acts of the Howard/Costello/Abbott government - right up there with the terrible treatment of refugees but applied to Australian citizens with a guaranteed right to vote.

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