The sixth sense

By | 2011/11/18

There’s a lot of crackpots and charlatans out there that’ll tell you they have extra-sensory perception. What skeptics seem to invariably find with such people is they’re either outright frauds, or they’re just very good at reading people. (As someone such as Derren Brown tries to point out.)

Unlike all those crackpots and charlatans though, I really do have a sixth sense.Plasma GlobeIt’s called the internet.

(Image sourced from Wikipedia.)

Laugh if you want, scoff if you will, but net connectivity does, once you’ve been using it long enough become like another sense. After all, it lets you instantly communicate with people in every corner of the globe; it lets you find out information almost irrespective of whether it’s of immense importance of the tiniest of minutia, and finally, it lets you conduct your business, regardless of where it needs to be done, from wherever else in the world you are at the time.

That sounds like telepathy, omniscience and out of body respectively.

On those grounds, why wouldn’t you call the net a sixth sense?

We’re at an interesting point in time where a vast majority of the sum of human knowledge sits at our fingertips, indexed and ready for us to search. Never has there been so much information so readily available to so many. And, as my colleagues in storage will attest to, that just continues to grow. The amount of data generated and stored yearly increases at rates which are truly staggering, as shown by this infographic.

With that sort of information at our fingertips, you’d be forgiven for briefly indulging in a narcissistic appreciation of Hamlet’s soliloquy:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in
Reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god!

Now, pulling back from godlike delusions of grandeur, when you think of the interconnectivity offered by the internet, and the vast information potential it offers, that it can become as integrated into the faculties as any of the other senses. Sure, it relies on the other senses, but that’s not unusual though. For instance, taste and smell are inextricably linked; losing your sense of smell, even briefly, significantly impacts your sense of taste.

Never is the gulf between net-as-a-sense and five-senses-only more profound then when talking to someone who doesn’t have internet access at all. To them, breaking news is something they either see on a TV newsflash or radio broadcast. But that can be anywhere from 15 minutes to 8 hours since the news hit Twitter. (A classic example is how Twitter can now spread news of an Earthquake, out from the epicentre, faster than the shock waves.) It’s equally obvious with news surrounding people in the public eye: I got a text message from a relative saying “Did you know Steve Jobs died?” probably 4 hours after his death. That was practically old news by then, since I’d seen the news break on Twitter within minutes of it being announced. I probably would have known sooner but I was between travelling for work at the time.

In the Peter F. Hamilton Commonwealth series, there’s an enhanced version of the net called the unisphere, and everyone has direct neural connectivity to it, allowing extensive access to the sum of human knowledge.

Hamilton may be a science fiction writer, but even I as a humble Gen-Xer who happens to be strongly net-connected can see that the future lays in that direction. However, it’s not scary. It’s a new era for perception and connectivity. For over a decade now even modestly unimaginative people have been predicting a pseudo hive-mind level of connectivity thanks to the net, and with each year that passes, it becomes increasingly impossible to deny.

It’s the sixth sense.