The Internet is a Global Nervous System

on 2022-03-01

Oh boy, here we go again.

I'm pushing through the membrane of writing and drafting other stuff to bring you this idea:

I've been thinking a lot about the invasion of Ukraine. The response to it on the internet was instantaneous and quite dramatic. It occurred to me: this is the first conflict of this kind we've had since the complete proliferation of the portable internet (ie. smartphones). Using a livestream I could literally watch Kyiv get bombed, LIVE, in real time. I can know the events unfolding on the other side of the world almost the second they happen. Most everyone in a city these days is armed with a camera and a data connection. When intense pain occurs, like a single axon they fire their video off for the entire world to feel. It travels through the wires of our network, from router to router, to node to node, from country to country, eventually reaching a living, feeling, person on the other side. Like a nervous system connecting all humanity.

Across forums, threads, streams, and videos, people from all over the world responded:

Fuck Poutine, give em hell Ukraine sending prayers πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έβ€οΈπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦
Ukrainians in Canada are with you Ukraine!! πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦β€οΈ
Slava Ukraini! πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺβ€οΈπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦
Come to Romania we will help you! πŸ‡·πŸ‡΄πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦
AYY O BRASIL ESTA COM VOCE!!! πŸ‡§πŸ‡·πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦πŸ‡§πŸ‡·πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦ (okay, I made this one up)

So much of the world is united in their distaste of the Russian president's decision (unless it's fake...). Even many Russians themselves, despite rampant propaganda. TV networks are easy to control, but a network connected to the rest of the world is much more difficult to censor, even among the widespread astroturfing by Russian trolls. So too, then, do the people of the famous steppe realize the only thing they have to gain from this, is pain. Many still feel the ever-so-generous boot of Poutine [sic] as they protest in the city centers of the motherland. So, very few people actually want this war. To have so much of the world united against him, well-- it makes Poutine look desperate, old, and out of touch, like a cartoon villain that doesn't yet know he's out of cards to play. This may indeed be his death knell, a frantic reach to showcase power and vitality. In other words: you just posted cringe bro!!! ur canceled!!!

And this led me to wonder: could the internet finally make traditional war obsolete? War has always been a battle of information-- the history of cryptography and propaganda proves it so. Even now, the government of Ukraine has asked its citizens not to upload their military movements online.

But I feel that we may be at a tipping point, a junction where war can be relegated to the shadows, the cyberworld, the stock markets, and the goons of three-letter agencies. And the reason is because that's where the pain is nearly invisible and unnoticed by the global public body, taking place in a back alley rather than in the main street. Because what happens these days when war is public? It gets uploaded to the web. It gets posted on TikTok. It gets shared on Twitter. It hits the front page of Reddit. The morning after it started, I woke up and on the front page I saw a video of a smoking, wrecked tank, and a dead Russian soldier on the ground beside it, mangled in such a way that only war knows how to do. He couldn't have been older than 19.

...

In the old days, it would take days, weeks, or months before you would read of a conflict in the paper. Your government would tell you this was a just and noble struggle, with a clear enemy deserving of death. But now, you can see these boys get absolutely slaughtered in 60 frames per second, full HD resolution. The grisely facts are all here in their nakedness-- NSFL. What conclusions do you make? Who, after seeing that, would possibly support this conflict? No human of able spirit would. Hence the outpouring of distress felt across the world. Ironically, in this moment of great pain: a glimmer, a sparkling, a kindling of global unity, of global peace, of equilibrium, on Earth.

As our greatest invention since the printing press, the internet will continue to shape our destiny in this century. It's my belief that everything hinges on our ability to master it, to cut through misinformation, to moderate bad actors, to promote scientific truth, and to preserve openness and freedom. Our flow of communication and information is our greatest power and asset. Surely billions of people could be lifted out of poverty should we wield this wisely. If not... our ultimate destruction. Not by nukes or tanks, but by lies, bad faith, unresolved trauma, and hate, traveling at the speed of light to every finger in the world.