Migratio Mentium

In the old days, peoples would migrate, creating all sorts of upheaval in the process, including the demise of the Roman Empire.

There’s a similar migration going on right now. It has already destroyed entire industries, and keeps rattling the Roman Empires of today. But it is not a Migratio Gentium — a migration of peoples — but what we could call Migratio Mentium — a migration of minds. Everybody is participating, and as you read this on-line, you also most definitely are:

  • Consider a teenager who is glued to their smartphone every waking hour of the day, and for whom the sun shining, or the birds singing, have no attraction.
  • Consider a stock or bond trader who watches numbers go up and down, all day long, and in response, creates and changes some other numbers that are in turn watched by other traders. He might drink coffee as he does this, but his attention is not in the physical world.
  • Consider a software developer creating some website running on some cloud, and a designer who makes that site friendly and inviting, so that others will “join” and linger. Their attention is not in building a house, or a thing, but something entire virtual, with the intention to have others use that virtual thing entirely virtually. While some physical computer is involved somewhere, somehow, they pay no attention to that fact, nor do they need to.

welcome-to-cyberspaceIf somebody started spending more than 50% of their time in another country,  we would call this “they have moved”. If they spend more than 50% of their time and attention in cyberspace, with no inclination they will ever do substantially less, I’d argue they have moved just the same.

And if millions (maybe billions!) of people do it at the same time, it’s just as much of a migration as when some Germanic tribes pack up their stuff, and settle in the Roman Empire.

Welcome to the largest migration in human history: Bye, universe, you weren’t as universal as you thought. Welcome, cyberspace. We might have to leave our bodies behind, but our minds are ready, willing, and already right in the middle of it.

This is not a fluke. In general, the younger the person, the more they are focused on what is happening on-line, so there’s a generational change going on. And consider what’s coming. Immersive 3-D goggles for example. Much more detailed worlds in much more powerful information universes allowing us to do a lot more stuff in cyberspace. Hard-core games already forget that their bodies need to eat and use the bathroom. See my point?

Why does this matter, you may ask. It matters because the “natural” laws of cyberspace are totally different from the natural laws of the physical world. For example, there is no scarcity. If I eat your sandwich, you can’t eat it any more. In cyberspace, everybody can eat the same sandwich, and nobody is poorer. In fact, you want the equivalent of the sandwich to be found attractive and “eaten” by as many people as possible. Economics — the art of managing scarcity — determines so much (all?) of what we do in the physical world. There’s no such thing in cyberspace.

This changes what people can do, and will do, the way societies and relationships function (or not), the kinds of things they will spend their time and attention on, and not, and ultimately our value systems. If you spend 80%+ of your time in one environment with one set of values, and the rest in another, which value system do you consider to be “your’s”? Hint: it’s not the 20%’s. Your children don’t just grow up with a different attitude about same-sex marriage, weed, and what have you. They are digital natives in a place where the laws of physics, and economics, and much else, don’t apply. And where, by and large, there are no equivelent hard laws of physics; everything is malleable. This does change simply everything.

Many science fiction novels have been written in which people can change bodies, i.e. their mind and their self has a life that is independent of the physical body they are in at any point in time. (What most of them have missed is that the realm of the mind, not the physical world, is going to be the dominant place for where those minds will “live”; that’s much easier for the minds: there are no bodies to worry about)

Of course, philosophers have separated mind and body for a long time. When a hard-core gamer forgets that he needs to eat, or that he lives in an apartment or has a job: arguably their mind has moved to cyberspace. We don’t need mind up and downloads yet to get almost the same effect. But once they are available — and I believe they will, even if it is a century out or more — the gamer will hardly notice. Migratio Mentium will be mostly complete by that time.

Now, let’s go back and build products and services, given this. Not! I realize this change of perspective makes me think about what I’m spending my hours on in an entirely different light, and I’m very intrigued and inspired by it.