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Mark Pesce: When hyperdistribution comes after hyperconnectivity

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th February 2011


This is the sharing instinct, caught up and amplified by hyperconnectivity, producing the capability to send something everywhere, instantaneously: hyperdistribution

Excerpted from Mark Pesce:

“What happens after we are all connected? For an answer to this, we must look back to the original human network, language. Our infinitely flexible linguistic capability allows us to put words and descriptions to anything real or imagined, transmitting experience from mind to mind. Language allows us to forge, maintain and strengthen social bonds6 in a mechanism analogous to the ‘grooming behaviors’ of other primates. The voices of others remind us that we belong to a cohesive social unit, that we are safe and protected.

Most mammals have a repertoire of vocal signals they use to signal danger. Humans can be incredibly precise, and although this is important in moments of immediate peril, language serves principally as the vehicle of human cultural transmission: don’t eat this plant; don’t walk across this river; don’t talk with your mouth full. This linguistic transmission gives human culture a depth unknown in other animals. Language is a distribution medium, a mechanism to replicate the experience of one person throughout a community.

This replication activity confers an enormous selection advantage: communities who share what they know will have increased their selection fitness versus communities that do not, so this behavioral tendency toward sharing becomes an epigenetic marker of the human species, persistent and conserved throughout its entirety. As a consequence, any culture which develops effective new mechanisms for knowledge sharing will have greater selection fitness than others that do not, forcing those relatively less fit cultures to either adopt the innovation, in order to preserve themselves, or find themselves pushed to the extreme margins of human existence.

As a result, two selection pressures push humans toward linguistic connectivity: the desire of individuals to connect for their own safety; and the desire of the community to increase its group selection fitness7, for its own long-term viability. These twin selection pressures makes humans extraordinarily social, the ‘social instinct’ part of the essential human template. Humans do not need to be taught to share knowledge of the world around them. This comes freely and instinctively. Socialization places normative constraints around this sharing. Such constraints are both amplified and removed in the presence of hyperconnectivity.

Where humans are hyperconnected via mobile, a recapitulation of primate ‘grooming behaviors’ appears almost immediately. Mizuko Ito, in Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life, noted the behavior of Japanese teenagers8, sending hundreds of text messages a day to a close circle of friends, messages lacking significant extrinsic meaning, serving simply as a reassurance of presence, even at distance, a phenomenon she termed ‘co-presence’. The behavior Ito observed among Japanese teenagers is now ubiquitous among teenagers within the developed world: American teenagers send well over 3000 text messages per month.

Hyperconnected via mobile and perhaps via electronic mail, we repeatedly witness a familiar phenomenon: someone new to the medium begins to ‘overshare’, sending along bad jokes, cute photographs of furry animals, and the occasional chain letter. This is the sharing instinct, caught up and amplified by hyperconnectivity, producing the capability to send something everywhere, instantaneously: hyperdistribution.

Embarrassing photographs and treacherous text messages, ‘sexting’ and damaging audio recordings, forwarded over and over through all the mechanisms of hyperconnectivity, are examples of hyperdistribution. When any digital artifact encounters a hyperconnected human, that artifact is disseminated through their network, unless it is so objectionable that it is censored, or so pedestrian it provokes no response. The human instinct is to share that which piques our interest with those to whom we are connected, to reinforce our relations, and to increase our credibility within our networks of relations, both recapitulations of the dual nature of the original human behaviors of sharing.

The instinctual sharing behavior of humans remains as strong as ever before, but has extended to encompass communities beyond those within range of our voices. We share without respect to distance. Our voices can be heard throughout the world, provided what we say provokes those we maintain relations with. Provocation carries with it the threat of ostracism; if a provocation proves unwarranted, relations will be damaged, and further provocations ignored. This functions as a selection pressure on hyperconnected sharing, which over time tends toward ever-greater salience.”

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