UPDATE (June 24, 2009): My friend Ken just emailed letting me know that Fr. King passed away yesterday. He was instrumental in shaping the way I think about my religion, evolution, and life in general. He’ll be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Fr. King. And thank you.
There’s been some discussion recently on visions for social media. John Furrier’s somewhat satirical take is here. Fred Wilson gives his take here. Fred’s vision for social media is “every single human being posting their thoughts and experiences in any number of ways to the Internet.” Fred expected that some would say that’s a ridiculous notion, and his prediction is borne out in a few of the comments, but there is quite a bit of agreement there. However, I’d go a step farther and say that if we look really long term–much longer than the 2-4 year horizon that we use to evaluate new ventures–like 100-200 years, there’s a case to be made that Fred’s vision does not go far enough.
Back in college I was captivated by the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who was also trained as a paleontologist and geologist. We studied Teilhard in a course called The Theology of Evolution taught by Fr. Thomas King. One of the concepts Teilhard talks about is the Omega Point–the maximum attainable level of complexity and consciousness to which the universe seems to be evolving. Over simplified, his theory is that the universe is evolving towards the final realization of God.
Teilhard observes several phases that the universe has gone through on a path to the Omega Point. The first being the development of inanimate matter, or the geosphere. The second is the development of organic life, or the biosphere. And lastly the development of increasing levels of consciousness, or the noosphere.
According to Teilhard, we are constantly evolving towards a greater collective consciousness. As a result this increasing integration of consciousness brings us closer to the Omega Point. As we see the evolution of social media, or really shared consciousness, are we living in the evolving noosphere?
Think about language evolving to pictograms to written language to printed books to the internet to email to IM to Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed. Each of these “evolutionary” steps make our collective consciousness more and more integrated. There was a time when if I did not know something, then it simply wasn’t knowable to me. However, I now have a vast collective consciousness available from friends, strangers, Scoble, and Google. As a result, each of us is able to experience a higher consciousness than we were ever able to experience in the past.
We see with each new innovation an integration that had previously been impossible. Within our networks, we know what each other are doing, thinking and even where we are physically. As storage gets smaller and cheaper and processing power gets faster and cheaper and discovery tools become more accurate and relevant and it gets easier and easier to create and share content, it is not out of the realm of thinking to postulate that over time, all of the world’s knowledge will be shared by everyone and instantly accessible to anyone. And if the entire sphere of human knowledge is shared by all, have we overcome the physical separation that defines us as individual humans? And if so, is this the realization of the Omega Point? And if so, is FriendFeed currently the most tangible manifestation of the noosphere?
I’m not a theologian, nor do I play one on TV. But I do believe that there’s a pattern in evolution and it’s more than just random physical mutations (although the random mutations may be the path to that pattern). We see it in the evolution of technology and the ways that we choose to use that technology. I find it interesting to look at what is happening in the social web from the viewpoint of Teilhard and wonder what he would have thought about our new collective consciousness. Our current observations of how our consciousness is becoming more and more collective were eerily predicted by Teilhard decades before the invention of the internet.