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The Hive Mind

Posted Apr 01 2009 12:50pm
Over the past few years, I've radically redesigned my approach to learning. In the past, I memorized information. Now, I need to be a knowledge navigator, not a repository of facts. I've delegated the management of facts to the "Hive Mind" of the internet. With Web 2.0, we're all publishers and authors. Every one of us can be instantly connected to the best experts, the most up to date news, and an exobyte multimedia repository. However, much of the internet has no editor, so the Hive Mind information is probably only 80% factual - the challenge is that you do not know which 80%.

Here are few examples of my recent use of the Hive Mind as my auxiliary brain.

I was listening to a 1970's oldies station and heard a few bars of a song. I did not remember the song name, album or artist. I did remember the words "Logical", "Cynical", "Magical". Entering these into a search engine, I immediately retrieved Supertramp's Logical Song lyrics. With the Hive Mind, I can now flush all the fragments of song lyrics from my brain without fear.

My daughter asked me a question from her chemistry homework about calculating the mass of nitrogen gas gathered over water. I did remember the ideal gas law (PV=nRT), but I did not recall how to correct for the partial pressure of water using Dalton's Law. One quick search for "nitrogen collected over water" yield sample problem sets from colleges that refreshed my memory with all I needed to know.

While writing, I'm constantly looking up words, concepts, maps, and dates. I know how to look for them and where to find them.

There are a few times when the Hive Mind yields surprising results. I wanted to learn more about the Stimulus Bill's "Healthcare IT Standards Committee". I wanted to check out the "ARRA privacy timeline". Finally, I was looking for information about the "healthcare CIO". All three of these searches returned my own writing as the first hit. The blessing and the curse of Web 2.0 is that blogs are the news and personal opinions can become facts.

At the moment I have a balanced separation between my own mind and the Hive Mind. However, as we Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I wonder if the separation between our human mind and our network mind will blur.

I remember an Outer Limits episode Stream of Consciousness (actually, I found it in Wikipedia by searching Google for "outer limits episode stream") in which everyone in society is connected to the "Stream" and shares a network connected existence based on information, not knowledge. In the end, the Stream is destroyed and mankind has to re-learn how to think for themselves.

As the closing dialog of that episode notes

"We make tools to extend our abilities, to further our reach, and fulfill our aspirations. But we must never let them define us. For if there is no difference between tool and maker, then who will be left to build the world?"

Words to live by as we use the Hive Mind of the internet.
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