We are living on the cusp of perhaps the second great tipping point in human history, and this is an awesome and chancy thing to experience. I can almost imagine myself in ancient Mesopotamia, following the advent of the written word, as if in a time machine, out of the cold and cyclical universe of oral memory and myth and into the spiraling torrent of history and civilizations. And then today, cruising in cyberspace among all the world’s words and through all of its walls, I can see once-indispensable material technologies and territorial relationships, like books and nation-states, vanishing in a chain reaction of knowledge and technology produced by a global social brain that anybody can access but nobody can manage.
If people could soar like winged angels and demons, they wouldn’t need cars or airplanes; and if they can surf for knowledge in no time and bind into communities unbound by space, then libraries and borders become irrelevant. Yet I can no more foretell the actual forms of knowledge, technology and society that are likely to result than an ancient Bushman or Sumerian could foresee how people could split the atom, frolic on the moon, crack the genetic code or bond unto death on the internet. (And anyone who says they can is just blowing smoke in your face.) But I’m reasonably sure that whatever new forms arise, they will have to accommodate fundamental aspects of human nature that have barely changed since the Stone Age: love, hate, jealousy, guilt, contempt, pride, loyalty, friendship, rivalry, the thrill of risk and adventure, accomplishment and victory, the desire for esteem and glory, the search for pattern and cause in everything that touches and interests us, and the inescapable need to fashion ideas and relationships sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness in the random profusion of the universe.
As things now stand, I see a chance that political freedom and diversity will triumph, but also a chance that a brave new world of dumbing homogeneity and deadening control by consensus will prevail.