For decades now, everyone who has thought about the matter at all has known that we were going to arrive here — which is to say nowhere in particular — and we almost have. It struck me forcibly in Cambodia, where connectivity was difficult enough to impinge on consciousness, that being linked near-continuously to nowhere (in particular) had become a fundamental expectation of my psychological existence. Twitter, ‘where’ I am still a novice, had drastically reinforced the blogger mentality that ejects the mind from place. Thoughts now latch onto online articulation as their natural zone of consolidation, entangled in social networks exempted from geography. A neural-implant twitter chip, uplinked through satellite to the Internet, seemed to be an inevitable consummation of current micro-media trends.
On the Shanghai metro, a large majority of travelers are submerged in their mobile phones, beyond speech, their attention sublimed out of space. The social networks to which consciousness has evolved, as an adaptation, are no longer found anywhere. As James Bennett predicted, in his formulation of the Anglosphere, cultural proximity has taken on a density that eclipses spatial closeness. It is already normal to live (psychologically), to a very large extent, outside space. Under many circumstances, the passenger standing next to you on the train is far more distant than the ‘voices’ on your twitter feed, even when every conventional standard of common social identity is satisfied. Minds that were biologically engineered over tens or even hundreds of millions of years to engage with their physically-proximate fellows are ever more elsewhere (or nowhere in particular) — in the techno-traffic ‘cloud’. Something seriously vast has happened.
It is certainly possible to exaggerate the extent of the change so far. Family, the most basic social unit, still interacts predominantly offline (in its nuclear form, at least). It might even be common to pursue most friendship offline, although this is already questionable among the denizens of advanced metropolitan centers. What is quite certain is that — in the absence of apocalyptic technological regression — the idea of a wider ‘organic society’ has been profoundly complicated by a micro-media revolution that is already entrenched, and which shows no sign of slackening momentum. This is the socio-historical environment in which virtual crypto-currencies will express their critical consequences. Exodus from geography becomes less of a metaphor with every passing year.
People have to live somewhere, but their lives are increasingly led nowhere. Realism requires that both sides of this quite novel, partially de-localized ‘situation’ receive appropriate attention.