The arc of all media is long and bends towards telepathy… and Facebook?

We’ve seen in previous posts that, if we read the Hebrew closely and cleverly, the Bible tells the story of the origin of the alphabet as a gift from God to Moses on Mount Sinai. God instructs Moses to teach this new disruptive communication technology to the Children of Israel. Moses and Aaron use it to liberate them from slavery in Egypt by showing its disruptive power to Pharaoh in his court.

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Whether or not one believes that the Hebrew alphabet was a divine revelation to Moses on Sinai, we can understand why the moment of its invention would be recorded as one of the most transformative revolutions in history. We can see how the conception of an omnipotent, omnipresent and invisible God comes with this new cognitive weapon. We can understand why a powerful leader would let those who possess this new technology would be torn between expelling them and eradicating them. And we can see why a culture of slaves who seem to come out of nowhere attribute to it mythologies of redemption, revelation, and revolution that changes humanity for millenia. That it coincides with the best evidence we have for the actual historic origins of this new technology of the alphabet lends force to the argument.

But 3400 years later, even if we strip away its metaphysical force, the cultural story of the origin of the alphabet has something to say to us today, for it is a model for understanding other tectonic shifts in history that were wrought by sudden eruptions and deployment of disruptive technologies, especially technologies of communications. They inevitably bring a new ethos, new cognitive tools, new arts, new epistemologies, and new gods.

Today, in 2015, I believe we stand on the verge of yet another such breakthrough, with new advances in the ongoing computer-cybernetic revolution. We are rapidly taking steps towards the realization of mind-to-mind communication enabled by brain-to computer-to-brain technology. The journey to “Technologically-Mediated Telepathy” is latent in all the prior communications revolutions. From the time hundreds of millenia ago we started grunting symbols, or 20,000 years ago when we started painting on cave walls, through writing and computers, we were always already on the road to telepathy. After all, what are all media, what are all communications, all arts, all expressions, if not an attempt to trade subjectivities, to get what’s in my mind into yours. And insofar as we always willy nilly strive for technical progress, then we have inexorably been doing so faster, more faithfully, more sensationally.

All this would be science fiction speculation, but events are catching up. Dozens of parallel research projects are engaged in getting computers to hook directly into and “read” brains, either to record and decipher what is being experienced in the brain or to enable humans to control various devices with their “thoughts.” Others are involved in getting that reading into a format that can then be transmitted to other brains, brain-to-computer-to-brain communication, or technologically mediated telepathy.

And on June 30, 2015, no less a chacham than Mark Zuckerberg announced that he envisions the future of Facebook is telepathy. It will enable people to read each others’ minds, a natural enough goal for a technology devised to help people share intimacies.

In response to a question about the future of Facebook during an online Q&A with users in June, 2015, CEO Zuckerberg replied:

“One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too if you’d like. This would be the ultimate communication technology. … We used to just share in text, and now we post mainly with photos. In the future video will be even more important than photos. After that, immersive experiences like VR [virtual reality] will become the norm. And after that, we’ll have the power to share our full sensory and emotional experience with people whenever we’d like.” [Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures]

If we read the history of media revolutions like the advent of the alphabet, it becomes clear that the arc of media has been long but has always bent towards  telepathy.  Facebook – and the telephone, and the printing press, and the Internet itself – have always contained in their technical innovation the promise of fulfilling that universal human urge for perfect intimacy and recognition.

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