Are We Turning Into A Collective Consciousness?

Recently, I have been binge watching Star Trek: Voyager (such a geek, right – love those 90s hairstyles). One of the key premises of Star Trek (all versions save for the new JJ Abrams dreck) is that individuals can always triumph over a “collective”.  The Borg was evil because it was a collective. When you were assimilated by the Borg (resistance is futile) you were robbed of your individuality, which meant being robbed of your humanity, since your humanity was inextricably tied to your individuality. The message: Individuality is good, the collective is bad.

I’ve been making some interesting connections and observations over the last little while about the future of humanity and what we’re becoming or what we have become. While I’ve said before that we are already cyborgs, only recently have I realized that we have become closer to the Borg depicted in Star Trek than I thought.

As a libertarian futurist (yes, you knew that, didn’t you?), I believe in the individual. Every adult is an individual and should be allowed to make their own decisions for themselves.

I mean if you think about it, those are the precepts upon which America (and modern democracy) was founded.  All humans are created equal. All humans are individuals. They can make decisions for themselves. These individuals are adult enough and smart enough and they know enough to know what they’re doing. This is why we have drinking ages, driving ages, ages to join the military, and ages to marry.  We figure by the time that somebody gets to that age they should be an independent, intelligent individual who can make those decisions for themselves. (Well-meaning governments notwithstanding.)  Right?

The individual is good. The collective is bad. From Wikipedia:

Also referred to as the “hive mind” or “collective consciousness”, the Borg Collective is a civilization with a group mind. Each Borg individual, or drone, is linked to the collective by a sophisticated subspace network that ensures each member is given constant supervision and guidance. The collective is broadcast over a subspace domain similar to that used by the transporter. Being part of the collective offers significant biomedical advantages to the individual drones. The mental energy of the group consciousness can help an injured or damaged drone heal or regenerate damaged body parts or technology. The collective consciousness not only gives them the ability to “share the same thoughts”, but also to adapt with great speed to defensive tactics used against them

I think that that message has been recently turned on its head: the individual is bad and the collective is good.  I think that part the reason for that is our ability to be instantaneously connected to anyone, anywhere, all the time, Borg Collective-like. High speed, always on, mobile internet hyperconnectivity has made this happen. Why make your own decisions on anything when all of your friend’s opinions are a simple swipe or tap away? You can always blame your “collective” if you make a bad choice, and its super easy to let others make the call for you.

It feels to me that we may be moving away from a period of time where it was important to be an individual and that individuals made decisions for themselves, by themselves or at least within a small unit, like a couple or a family. That’s what we used to prize. That’s what we used to think was good. That’s what we used to think was the ultimate good: people making decisions for themselves. But I’m sensing that has changed.

Here’s an example. When we used to go shopping, you’d go alone or you bring maybe one or two trusted friends, or your significant other.  You’d try on a number of different things.  And you’d look at what you’re wearing, and you’d think to yourself  “I look pretty good in this” or maybe your significant other agrees but that was that it was you and maybe one or two others. But now it’s a collective effort.  It’s a group effort.  You send pictures of your proposed outfit to a hundred of your Facebook friends and have them decide what you should wear.

The collective is becoming more important than the individual. Think about that for moment.  If that is true, then everything changes. It affects the app you are building. It affects the startup that you’re about to launch into the world.  It affects the kind of business you’re doing: if individuals farm out all of their decisions to the collective, how does that change things? Instead of asking a user for their preferences, maybe you need to go directly to their social network instead. Assume that they will farm out the decision, and ask the collective instead. After all, isn’t it the same as asking what the most popular dish is at a restaurant, or the most popular cocktail at a bar?

Maybe this hyperconnectivity has evolved us into creatures who don’t just consult others, then make our own decisions, but a new kind of human, a new kind of humanity, disconnected from individuality, or Homo Nexus. Homo Nexus lets the collective make the decision for them.

We’ve all become mini hive minds. And we’re OK with that. We never used to be OK with that. We don’t make decisions individually anymore.  If that’s the case, leveraging the crowd is no longer an option, its mandatory. If you don’t leverage the crowd, your customers are out in the wilderness.  They won’t know what to do.

So, I’m posing these questions to you:

  • Have we moved from an individualistic culture to a collectivist culture?
  • Have we gone from making decisions for ourselves to somewhere where collective (social network) reigns supreme?
  • Have we disconnected individuality from our humanity, and in so doing, in some way are beginning to evolve into Homo Nexus?

And if so, how does that bode for your business, our political systems, our culture and the world?