4.0 Meaning is deep slow and on the cusp

Banksy lifestyle 500 wideWhen it becomes impossible to tell whether the content we read is being created by human beings or robots, what is meaningful?

This section of Emergent code considers the place of meaning as part of digital design and development.

In the early days of his career, Banksy used to quote Lieutenant Colonel Gonin, who inspired Banksy’s artistic manifesto and was amongst the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Lieutenant Gonin described the power of a supply of lipstick he found there after the Red Cross had arrived at the concentration camp:

‘It was an action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance…I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again. They were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm…That lipstick had started to give them back their humanity.’

A stick of lipstick became the only humanising thing female prisoners had access to and was a symbol of hope and enormous significance.

Fast forward 70 years from those days and, digitally, how we connect, and what we connect around, is also an expression of meaning and value.

Technology delivers vast tracts of data, dialogue and exponential levels of discovery, giving us enhanced experiences, the ability to meet basic needs and go well beyond them. But it is often the act of discovery itself as much as what is discovered, the ‘how’ not the ‘what’, that makes the most meaningful imprint. This is often where our stories and most cherished memories come from. It is because they come from the freedom to connect, often in random and unexpected contexts, that these things have meaning.

Genius, it is said, is the ability to make connections out of seemingly unconnected things. There may be patterns of behaviour in the future that neuromarketing and code increasingly determines and packages up as the default option, that take us away from a more visceral sense of ourselves.

The truth of our humanity, though, will always be like that of the story of the lipstick, that the real significances are in the unexpected and random experiences, behind the actions and algorithms that can’t be automated.

Prescribed and pre-programmed learning has been with us for a while. The curriculum has become a conventional form of knowledge-building, to be found in teaching and schooling, job descriptions, in the KPI’s of how things are managed and governed generally. Machines are designed to eliminate deviance from the processes of human life. The binary nature of digital code, which either runs or it doesn’t, works this way too.

Processing thought like this has served us reasonably well to date, with a diet of instruction manuals, using machines, working with clear objectives and straight, linear trajectories. But when conformity can be automated, how meaningful is it for digital humans to continue to work this way?

The connected, networked world is full of random and spontaneous opportunities and vast reservoirs of data that can now illuminate unexpected insights. This means new possibilities can now be generated endlessly.

In our digital emergence, opening up these neural pathways of thought, not just following well-worn paths, has a benefit, both scientifically and logically. What happens where networks intersect is interesting, complex and nuanced. This is where meaning for the digital human will flourish.

Meaning does not have an on/off button. It is something that emerges over time, so what does the binary code of the digital world mean for meaning?

This section looks at meaning, meaninglessness and the existential questions that are part of a human fusion with technology. It pays homage to the mystical and ancient soul of the human spirit and explores how reconnecting with what matters to us as digital humans is perhaps a ‘do-or-die’ next step.

For our survival in the Digital Era, meaning must continue to touch us. The binary nature of code means the speed of the super-information highway, which can be so desensitizing, has an equal and opposite. This counterbalance is the slow web, where we make aware and conscious choices. It is the element of emergent code that balances the senseless activity of automatons.

So here I look at how well we can remain present with all of our human character as we go digital, exploring data and code to create significance.