Human anatomy hasn’t changed in 200,000 years. Instead, humans evolve with tools. Language, global commerce, and print are inventions that augment our cognition, allowing us to think with abstractions, learn new things, and create a better world. The internet is our latest evolution.
Interacting with software—apps, art, games—requires a human brain. Hand a dog a tennis ball and it will play, but give it an iPad and it’s lost. Like animals, we live in physical space. But unlike them, humans reason, create, explore, and converse. Our intellectual process defines us.
Software allows us to use that intellectual process while transcending physics. In the digital world things move instantly, copies are free, scale is infinite, work is distributed, and personalization is the norm.
Someone famous once said that the computer was like a “bicycle for the mind.” But it’s way more like a motorcycle.
When you connect computers to each other the metaphor expands exponentially. It’s not just a motorcycle for the mind, but billions of motorcycles traversing infinite, intricate roadways.
For a long time, the realm of software was severely limited by available hardware. But we’ve hit escape velocity. We have a giant surplus of hardware technology: everyone has a connected smartphone in their pocket.
Networked software is analogous to the mind’s evolution with language, an empowering abstraction that allowed us to communicate concepts and form far more complex thoughts. With words and sentences we construct intricate ideas in ways that other people can understand and expand on.
When we engage with the internet our brains similarly rewire; they evolve. Without the limits of physics or biology the realm of possibilities becomes virtually infinite. Our learnings are limited only by our drive and curiosity. Our creations, by our imaginations.
Artists can share songs with the world instantly, a lone traveler can navigate a foreign city to find the best izakaya, and students can learn about space from astronauts while they’re in orbit. We don’t have to remember random facts. We work at the mind’s pace. When a digital solution will do, it will always win.
It’s as if we discovered this alternate universe that has these magical properties. We just got to this place. We are adapting, evolving, to understand it and construct a new home.
The internet is the world’s nervous system. Every node on the network gets smarter and stronger as the network expands. What isn’t connected will die. The synapses create an integrated system, a collective, exponentially smarter brain.
We’re just beginning to see the effects of this. Google answers any curiosity instantly. Uber moves people cheaper and faster than ever before. Facebook lets you keep in touch with a 1000 people at once.
Quality of life goes up. People get access to the whole world from anywhere. And they can contribute to it.
Our current internet is in its infancy, though. By the end of the decade the number of people with smartphones will triple to 6 billion. We’re just scratching the surface of what can be done in this new environment. How will we create, learn, eat, heal, live, love?
Imagine a world that evolves with the internet.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing more about the state of software, its history, and where we can take it. Thanks to Luke Crawford and Eddie Cohen for feedback and insights on this post. You can follow me on Twitter @josephcohen.