The Way It Is
A goal in software is to create small, reusable components. Sort of how simple, metal beams can be used to create buildings, bridges, or space stations. To take individual pieces and put them together in novel ways, to accomplish some new dream.
Electronics have grown to embrace this idea in a real way. Processors, memory, storage, and many other components are inter-connectable, and can be fashioned into anything from laptops, to satellites, to particle accelerators.
These small pieces stand alone, but are more useful when connected to other pieces. Notice the similarity to ideas? Our brains take tiny neurons which fire individually and build a sophisticated network of memories, feelings, and the amazing consciousness of which we know so little.
Who hasn’t heard that creativity is really just connecting the same dots in a different way? In the shower, you’re thinking regular thoughts, but you make a different connection between them, which results in your serendipitous revelation. You then hurry to finish showering, to make note of your idea before it fades away!
Lately, my goal with writing has shifted to building up a collection of small ideas. Ones that stand on their own, but are more useful when related to others. Turning these ideas into words, and seeing them in relation to their siblings is useful. The ideas are then clearer to me, and I can realize how they’re tied together.
The hope is to eventually build larger ideas and writings. But, in the same way that you don’t build a bridge from one piece of metal, these larger pieces are fashioned from connecting smaller ones.
To connect metal, weld. To connect software, make a call. To connect web pages, link them. These networks of tangible or intangible entities enable us. We take one, well-designed thing and get more mileage from it when it’s connected to some other thing.
Our brain connects billions of nerve cells into a network of staggering capability. But this only works within a single organism. What about linking organisms together?
We’ve invented (or discovered; we may never know) speech, oral traditions, writing, books, music, radio, film, video games, and photography. These are all meant to communicate ideas from one person to another. They’re a means to connect the neuron that is me to the neuron that is you. And our culture and civilizations have exploded with the force multiplied through these connections.
But computers fail. People pass away. Books and photos burn. Memories and radio transmissions fade. Knowledge is lost and rediscovered. But that’s only the way it’s been, not the way it has to be.
To step beyond our current position, we must invent (or discover) how to better connect people; how to store our knowledge in small pieces we can link in elaborate and impressive ways.
What’s the next step beyond books, colleges, the Internet, and all other traditional forms of sharing knowledge?
How do we connect humans to one another, to the living world, to beyond? How do we join all these neurons and power the consciousness that arises from that network?
It lies in learning to remix what is now in new and not-yet-obvious ways.
The only way we’ve found to get anywhere is to leave something behind. (Thanks, Interstellar!) Let’s leave behind our fragile books and lone consciousness as we propel future generations on toward that new, distant shore.
How do we begin? Experiment.