When I was in high school, there was a book on the required reading curriculum called The Chrysalids, written by John Wyndham in 1955. Like 1984, it was a pretty interesting book that has come to take on the significance of a history book … for the future.
The main character is a boy who lives a very restricted and dull existence among narrow and bigoted people in a post-apocalyptic world. (The Old People were destroyed by “the power of gods in the hands of children”.)
He is a mutant who has vivid dreams and imagination and eventually he discovers the ability to communicate telepathically with other people in the world. At first, his secret is shared with just a few others in his circle, but eventually he makes contact with people he has never met before (from a country called Sealand that appears, at least at first, to be far more open and tolerant). He meets them telepathically and they form an alliance against the establishment who would kill them if they knew about their communication.
In a former life, I was a programmer, and not to be dramatic or anything, but that is exactly how it felt, back in the day of BBS’s when the internet first became widely used. There was no one on BBS systems or the early internet to talk to but the few other people on these systems. Programmers were so used to people who shuddered at the mention of computers, and here was an entire society of people obsessed with them. The society quickly put together rules that were followed by most – sharing of information was always strongly encouraged. At work, we acted as a team with anyone on our networks, whether we knew them or not. Their knowledge was our knowledge, so we could all appear omnipotent at our jobs. When the internet and email first went public, anyone who tried advertising through email would be spammed by everyone so their provider would refuse to provide them service. We made our own laws and planned our own society.
Of course, it wasn’t ours for long. Very soon businesses of all sorts put up web pages and information, and added more and more services. Hacker laws still applied and almost all services were soon free. People had to conform and think of other ways to make money, advertising became acceptable. But the underside of the internet was still ours, it still felt like home, where we could always communicate with the other cells of our Gaia-esque self, where we could still share anything.
This summer has shown us an increasingly accelerated threat on that world. Not just our internet, but our global connection. Watching the world governments intimidate the travel of the Wikileaks founder feels oddly personal and chilling to me. Our internet, our travel, our blackberries … our personal trade? Our skype conversations? Our cell, landline, face to face conversations?
Typically, just as we are in danger of losing it, I think many of us have awoken to how much we would miss that world, even though we were not actually using it effectively before anyway. So maybe, right now before we lose it, is the time for a giant push to see just what our Gaia can do. How many of us are there, and how much do we care? And what were those plans we had for this place anyway?