Guest Column: ‘World brain’ suffers from A.D.D.
That didn’t take long.
Many of us writing and talking to the media about Kony 2012 — the all-of-an-instant moral crusade to bring to justice the brute who is believed to have kidnapped, abused, brainwashed and disposed of thousands of children in and around Uganda — were independently wondering out loud when the other shoe would drop. It has.
In fact, it’s now difficult to decide which of the Ugandan “counter” video or the reported meltdown of Kony 2012 creator/promoter Jason Russell is the more poignant (and telling) lesson. Either way, the whole story should give us serious pause about what passes for credible news and causes in today’s society.
First, that Russell’s Kony 2012 documentary went globally viral in a single day was truly impressive: it seemed everyone was talking about it, from kids coming home from school, to national newscasts, to yours truly on CBC Radio.
That many of us, however, openly questioned what it all means and where the good consciousness raising would and could cash out as concrete action seems echoed in the Ugandan government’s release on March 17 of what it purported to be a more balanced perspective on what the real facts and issues are and what the Ugandan authorities are doing about it.
Secondly, between the videos came news also of Russell’s apparent psychological meltdown, early reports pointing to his run-down condition and the intense public scrutiny around his campaign as triggers for publicly erratic behaviour resulting in his hospitalization.
So, what’s to be learned, just for starters?
The Ugandan video was no surprise, and good for them to at least attempt to meet what is in some ways a very odd documentary. Personally, and professionally, I’m always worried when people exploit their own children for their causes. Russell putting his own young son on camera raises ethical questions, not to mention drawing potentially unwanted attention.
I think there is a deeper problem, though, that the phenomenon points to. After 45 years of Internet evolution, we in 2012 are getting pretty close to full realization of H.G. Wells’ “world brain” — the notion actually in play since the 17th century that Wells in the 1930s tried to bring about formally by getting governments to aggregate and make available everywhere on microfilm the sum of useful and enlightening knowledge.
So, a pretty close approximation of what Web 2.0 and so-called “social” media effect today: an information commons where, in Wells’ own words, “any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine any book, any document.”
The question the Kony 2012 phenomenon brings into sharp relief, though, is: what kind of brain is it? Arguably, it’s very much an A.D.D. brain. Relentless waves of information racing on to the next sensation: today Kony, tomorrow a Goldman Sachs defector, both global twitter sensations in the morning, only to be old tweets by nightfall.
A world brain, in other words, suffering from its own short attention spans, distraction, inability to organize activities, and hyperactivity. Indeed, Russell’s meltdown is an apt metaphor for what has transpired for us all on the net — a world brain in cognitive overload.
Mark Wolfe is a research fellow for the Center for Information and Communication at The Van Horne Institute.