The Collective Brain App

It was interesting to learn that all those little icons that you keep on your desktop, ready for rapid access should you need them, really load the CPU down. Apparently, the computer’s processors treats them all as little windows in their own right. I had thought they were like buttons with nothing going on until you press them. Thus in one sentence I have established my technical expertise (lack of it anyway).

I learned very soon after that the brain sees words as little pictures. Words are not scanned as a series of letters and definitely not processed as ASCII or any other coded series of ones and zeroes. But like the icons on my desktop, they may look passive but they still require processing by the brain.

It is this processing, this active transformation from one set of symbols to another, that makes reading a really good book so enthralling in that by creating pictures for words, these series of pictures come together in such a way that we are taken wholly to another reality.

That good writers can not only conjure up entire universes of experience and take us there as well is some sort of miracle. Especially, as most of us have forgotten, that reading is a hard thing to learn to do.

How we as humans came to be readers and, of course, writers is a story worth telling, but our ability to turn marks on paper or a screen through this process of virtualisation into virtual worlds in our heads could have some very fundamental applications to the next stages of online technology.

We know that virtualisation takes up a huge amount of the brain’s resources. It is why it is so very unsafe to drive while talking on the phone. Apart from being dangerous there is little benefit to be had from cell-phone conversations held while driving. Our brain creates the space for the conversation and it fills in as best it can all the non-verbal cues we would normally assimilate at an unconscious level when in the presence of someone. It is not the same as listening to a good story on the radio: our social interactions are so vital to us that they take up far more brain power then just simply reading or listening. Hands-free systems make no difference in case anyone was wondering.

For the foreseeable future, we are going to be limited by the two-dimensional screen of the computer. And the really big bottleneck has been the browsers available. One immediate question concerning the is why after so long are there only four serious browsers: Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer? They are all much of a muchness, and they only really seem to differ in what you can add on to them and consequently slow them down. It is an application area that seems to be going nowhere.

I suggest the way forward will be in something like the apps interface on the iPhone, iPad and various Android apps as well are the start of a profoundly new direction of interacting with the Web. Apps allow you to access the specific part of the Web that you are interested in directly: no transiting via a browser. Each of them is a direct channel to the activity you wish to engage in or the subject you wish to know more about. This is powerful time-saving stuff.

It can’t be long until all our desktops and laptops will greet us with an array of wormholes to our favourite part of the web. They will exist before us as an ever evolving eco-system of interests and obligations. Fashion and sports news alongside exercise and scheduling software. These icons, together and separately, will tell the story of our relationship to the vast virtual world out there on the other side of our screens.

With this added dimensionality of expression we have the possibility of a greater conversational space. A conversational space perfectly suited for the dynamics of the social media experience that we now have to expand in to.

If these app icons were constructed and channeled in way that we could connect them to our friends apps – much like cells connecting to each other in the brain – we can then connect all the information that is contained in the channel the icons represent.

  • A set of photos as we have specifically arranged them
  • Files and documents that belong together
  • A selection of music and video to share and enthuse upon

No browser, no URLs, no annoying logins, no more having to endure what some third party thinks how you should present your work or your ideas. No constraints on how you define yourself in the world.

Information in this virtual universe is no longer just merely accessible – it is in a state of potential exchange.

Going back to using the example of using the telephone: we will no longer have to create in our brains a virtual world to help us understand a conversation with another person not present with us. We will be able to clearly and unambiguously share what we mean by being able to share exactly what we want in as complete a form as possible.

Pipes would be the wrong visual metaphor for what is going on here. These apps would be hooked up each other very much like the dendrites in our brains that connect and communicate from brain cell to brain cell.

And maybe if enough of these connections are made then one day in the near future we could really be looking at a world brain.

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