Richard Thieme's Islands in the Clickstream:

Breaking the Code

"Original ideas" have always incubated in a matrix that outputs similar insights through minds thinking in similar ways. It's more than a dialogue or conversation, it's a kind of mindfulness that includes and transcends our sense of being individuals. The matrix is more visible in the digital world, projected onto screens where we can see it. The digital world is constitutive of "selves" that are cells in the honeycomb of the "hive mind." We are still aware of ourselves but aware of ourselves as part of something much larger than our "selves."

The longer we live in this world, the more difficult it becomes to think of ourselves only as individual selves because the energy and information that constitutes the matrix flows with such fluidity between and among us. In moments of deeper seeing, we realize that we too are organizations of energy and information, recognizing a dependence on others and on the matrix itself that is daunting. We see ourselves seeing ourselves, and we are abashed.

That a column like this is a "work" created and owned by an individual author is a fairly modern concept generated only after the printing press was invented. Writers are taught to search for their own "voice" but we discover in our most creative moments that the voice that speaks is not our own. We may be need-to-know machines, but the real result of our needing to know is that we are more known than knower. We think we are speaking the words but the words in fact are speaking us.

The mass of humanity moves today through fields of information organized into honeycombs of cells toward new emergent realities. We like to call people who name those emergent realities "original thinkers," but the whole mass of humanity really arrives at the same time. Early adopters and late adopters simply have different seats on the same bus.

Everything, anyway, always happens at the same time.

Outside my office window, the world is bathed in autumn light, making the leaves translucent, suggesting that the world is a kind of computer animation projected through the multiple lenses of our brains, a holographic image of everything seen one slice at a time.

Something new is growing in the distributed Network, quickening in our collective enterprise. Because we can predict only the predictable, we can't say what it is. The readiness is all. In the fullness of time, both our individual lives and entire civilizations swell and burst with new possibilities that always seem to dawn with stunning suddenness. In retrospect, we impose on the events that seem to lead up to them a kind of compelling necessity, but life is always more complex than our explanations.

When our brains or eyes have evolved to a sufficient level of complexity, we apprehend what has always been there, but hidden. The neural net grows until it can grasp the pattern of more complex structures of data. Then we say, "Now I understand. Now I see." But we never really understand. We never really see.

"Out of the box thinking" is just a name for climbing out of one box into a little bit bigger box.

We are like miners tunneling through an immense mountain, seeing only the earth in front of our faces. What we don't know is so much bigger than ourselves.

The digital world, with all its circus animals and mythical beasts, is simply a new way for the human brain to deceive itself into thinking it Knows.

Why do so many Silicon Valley millionaires keep working when they can go to the beach? I think it's because we realize that once we have won by the terms of the game we thought we were playing, the game shifts to a new level. Toys just don't matter very much. Nobody is counting and nobody cares.

An IPO of Red Hat Linux created some new millionaires. Linux is Open Source software, which means the source code is available so anonymous programmers can keep growing and tweaking the code. Open Source software presumes that people are motivated not primarily by money but by participation in projects that give their lives meaning. The success of Linux seems to support that assumption.

But the truth is never simple. Red Hat stock options loomed large. Our motives are always mixed. At one level of description, we look like individuals acting on self-interest, and at another, we look like cells in a body deriving identity and purpose by participating in efforts that transcend self-interest. We can describe what we see at the level of the individual programmer or at the level of the code.

The ego is a modality of self-control, while the Self is a modality of self-transcendence, built to surrender control. When we lose ourselves in life in all its wonderfulness and flowing, we find ourselves, but when we try to hold on to what we find, we lose it again. Victory comes only in moments of surrender.

We flicker back and forth between these two ways of being like holographic images. Wanting to quietly eat our cake and wanting to quietly have it too.

It takes energy to maintain balance, doesn't it, to hang poised between life as it flows and noticing suddenly *that* it flows. We become suddenly fearful and reach out into the empty air to regain control. But there's no there there.

Look at the rocks in the rapids, says a friend who loves to kayak, and you'll hit the rocks. Look at the water flowing around the rocks and you'll go where the water goes.

What does it matter what name is pasted on the voice or the words if the words are worth speaking? Jews refuse to spell out the word "G-d" because the mystery at the core of our being is unspeakable. So is the pattern of the pattern of the program and our lives. The closer we come to the mystery, the intensity depth unknowability and richness of life, the more we melt into the code itself. Our existence is a recursive call of the pattern of the pattern of the code. When we relinquish the search for a pattern that our brains can grasp in symbolic notation, we experience more than contentment, we experience peace beyond all understanding, letting ourselves only be spoken, only be Known.

Islands in the Clickstream is an intermittent column written by Richard Thieme exploring social and cultural dimensions of computer technology and the ultimate concerns of our lives. Comments are welcome.

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Richard Thieme is a professional speaker, consultant, and writer focused on the impact of computer technology on individuals and organizations - the human dimensions of technology and work - and "life on the edge."

Islands in the Clickstream (c) Richard Thieme, 1999. All rights reserved.

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