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The Hive Mind of the Internet is Nothing Like the Borg

I'm going to take a break from art blogging to write about something that occurred to me at dinner tonight: the hive mind of the Internet is nothing like the Borg. So, if you're nerdy like me and remember the Star Trek episodes from the 90s, you are already familiar with the Borg. If not, here's a quick primer: The Borg are a super-creepy community of half-cyborg half-biped creatures that fly around the known universe in a mechanical cube trying to "assimilate" all humanoid races into Borg. A Borg person is connected through computer chips and tubes to a "queen" Borg who does all the thinking for them -- basically she's a parasitic organism that increases her influence by making clone-like zombies of herself that can all think and act in unison to carry out her will.

Anyhow, a few years ago, philosophers and random bloggers were floating around the idea that humanity was destined to first physically merge with computers and then, second, form a collective consciousness called an Omega Point (for example, see this blog entry from 2007: This theory is related to the idea of a Technological Singularity. Remember the giant glowing baby that the main character "evolved" into at the ending of Space Odyssey: 2001? It's kind of like that, but with Borg, everybody thinks as one, overtones. The idea always struck me as interesting, if a bit silly. So today, as I was thinking about memes, it became clear to me that the mechanisms of social media do not wipe out human individuality at all. Instead, the Internet allows single individuals to have greater influence than they ever have before. Unlike the Borg who "think" whatever the Queen thinks and say whatever she says, the echo chamber of the Internet is highly dependent upon masses of individuals who each uniquely decide whether something is worth repeating or not. Memes survive and are repeated, partially because a meme itself is "sticky" -- memorable, simple, and interesting in some way (cat videos), but also because massive amounts of unrelated individual gatekeepers see things online and then either repeat them or leave them to languish in obscurity. Interestingly, the Human Megaphone created by Occupy protesters is actually the opposite of how social media works. One protester yells "human megaphone." Other protesters repeat "human megaphone" and then all the repeaters listen for what the first protester says next so that they can repeat the phrase over and over at a loud volume until the whole crowd is saying it. The reason this method of disseminating information is so effective is because all the protesters have homogeneous interests to some extent and have informally agreed to support and promote each others efforts. In other words, there are no gatekeepers, only repeaters. In the wild world of the Internet no such agreement exists. People will only repeat what they want to repeat; there is no unifying goal nor shared beliefs. In summation, the hive mind of the Internet looks a lot more like this:

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