Human Being 4.0: The Web Edition

For better or worse, whether in the context of a “global village” or a “brave new world”, the Internet has given many of us a larger presence in the world that may well be redefining what it means to be human. If we have email addresses, contributions to on-line listservs and forums, social networking pages, blogs, websites and other such virtual edifices, our availability to be viewed, reviewed, and connected with is a quantum leap beyond the pre-web days when most of us just had a phone number and a street address. And as we continue to live our lives we have an ever-growing artifact trail accessible to anyone with a browser, much of it perhaps beyond our control and not necessarily what we would choose to share with strangers or maybe even friends and family. This virtual edifice of artifacts, words and pictures of ourselves captured as binary information in electronic data repositories, that continues even past our death.

Pretty freaky really, or maybe empowering, depending how you frame it!

Not sure what our human “version number” is at this point, but my thought process to get to four was the following.

* Version 1 was the human that interacted with other humans face to face with voice, touch, and physical presence (though perhaps an extrasensory energetic presence beyond that). Perhaps if they were the rare individual and wielded enough temporal power or influence they might have others speak for or of them to people they never physically encountered (like say Confucius or the Abraham of the Bible).

* Version 2 was the human that along with the version 1 features, could have their writing viewed by others either through the first mass media of printing and movable type or through letters facilitated by the emergence of postal service. Think Martin Luther as the prototype with his Ninety-Five Theses published, distributed and read by people who never met the man. His printed work arguably having way more impact on the world than he had on anybody he met in the flesh.

* Version 3 was the human that along with the features of earlier versions, could present their voice and/or image through the electronic media of radio, film (electronic at least in the projection and audio track) and television. Think FDR here, whose voice on the radio was perhaps as significant to getting the United States through the Great Depression and World War II as any of his actions taken as a corporeal person.

My “version” framing is perhaps way oversimplified, but I’m trying to make a point about how the scope of “being human” (including the artifact trail we leave behind) has extended in quantum leaps with our communication technology, and arguably never more so than with the Internet.

And what distinguishes our current fourth release, homo on-line as it were, is not only the scope of our potential reach, but the sheer number of us who have such an enhanced presence and/or artifact trail, how many people we can stay connected to (and can stay connected to us), and as a result how the degrees of separation in the world have probably been significantly lessened.

Given that maybe ninety percent or more of on-line artifacts and communication is so ephemeral that it might only be of real interest to alien or far-future anthropologists studying our lost culture, still that remaining small fraction of more significant thought arguably represents a revolution in our collective consciousness. So much more of our wisdom (whether captured in our archived words and images or available real-time in response to a query) is accessible on the Web.

And it makes sense that our latest Millennial generation, which has grown up within this wired (and now even wireless) matrix of communication technology, is perhaps the most comfortable leveraging it to build enhanced virtual personas and larger webs of affinity, community and other interconnections. My web-savvy young adult kids are my regular mentors on leveraging the functionality of “Human Being 4.0: The Web Edition”. It was my son Eric who suggested I start blogging and handled the initial logistics. My daughter Emma (the budding writer) scouted out all the local cafés with free wi-fi and recommended the ones to me where I now do the bulk of the writing for that blog.

Of course there are some significant “bugs” in this homo on-line version of our species that need to be called out, that can lead to some serious “crashes” of the organism and the larger society that need to be called out. There is certainly a huge challenge on the web to personal privacy, the reach of “big brother”, and personal control of how one is presented to the world. There is an easy anonymity on the web that can be liberating at times but can also allow us to say and even do things that we can easily avoid any responsibility for. And this enhanced web presence and persona could foster a debilitating new egoism. I can also imagine people becoming so virtually cerebral without the touch and corporeal presence of enough other people to perhaps begin to diminish the social nature of our species.

I’ll be interested what the “experts” (my kids) think about those potential pitfalls (or others).

Whether it is ultimately for better or worse is an important ongoing dialog and remains to be seen, but homo on-line is definitely a significant and growing presence in our society going forward. In reading the above, I’m sure you can tell that I think it is an evolutionary step forward for our species, but I’m certainly interested in hearing all the other points of view that are out there.

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