The emergent human organism

I think about this video a lot.

In summary: life on earth is really the history of exponential change. There were a few distinct periods in the history of life on earth where exponential change happened:

  1. The initial evolution of single cell organisms
  2. The evolution of multicellular life
  3. What we’re experiencing now in our society

He thinks through some attributes of the first two in an attempt to understand what the hell is happening to our society today. And remember, this was in 1994!

Mostly the changes are attributed to an information exchange mechanism. DNA evolved (somehow!) because it was a way for individual elements to exchange information and record that new recipe for the individual (in DNA). Cellular life was the result. Once this happened, a billion years of exponential evolution occurred.

Then it happened again, when these individual cells (somehow!) evolved the ability to exchange information and record the recipe for the community of individuals rather than just the individual cells. Essentially multi-cellular organisms comprised of cells that were symbiotic and became complex life such as ourselves. Another billion years of evolution and proliferation of these new “individuals”.

But the individuals were really just a part of the larger organism. Nobody really thinks of the cells in our bodies as individuals.

His argument is that, due to the internet and modern communications technology, we’re currently undergoing another period of exponential change, chiefly due to the increase in speed and fidelity (“bandwidth”) of information exchange between the individuals (us humans).

It does certainly appear that modern society is being ripped apart by social media. It’s very difficult for me not to think about this video and Danny’s argument when we think about Twitter and FB and how it’s affected our politics, our culture, our relationships with each other, and so on. We text each other, tweet our thoughts and hot takes to events in our curated social media timelines, and digitally post curations of our lives in the form of photos and videos.

Software has already eaten the world. And it’s turning us into a new type of “community”.

As individual people we’re invested in how we live or die as a cell in this new hyper cellular organism. Reasonably. It’s very tough to try and discern what this new organism looks like, or how it behaves.

What an interesting time to be alive.