The Oxford Circus incident: Social media gone mad?

Two guys have a disagreement on a crowded tube platform, this disagreement turns into a fight, the fight gets the tube platform evacuated and in the ensuing evacuation the station itself is evacuated.

One person thinks its terrorism and says so to another, rumours sweep through the evacuated passengers who do as any normal individuals would when faced with the onset of death: they run.

Tweets begin to surface, an online article incorrectly references past events as current, an army of social media junkies not in full possession of the facts begin to comment spreading the incorrect information online.

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The mail’s report would be later found to be out of date

The police are called to deal with an emerging situation and respond with armed officers. Scattered reports of gunfire begin to surface as a result, with the police seemingly dumbfounded about the real facts of the situation.

It sounds like a comedy of errors, punctuated by disinformation, but this was Friday night and this was Oxford Circus tube. Two men eventually handed themselves into police after a public appeal for witnesses to the incident, but by then the damage had already been illustrated. As any tube commuter will tell you, Oxford Circus station is a nightmare at the best of times, but on Friday it became a scene not out of place in an action movie.

A couple of people, in concert with a few poorly judged social media entries had caused a supposed terrorist incident.

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An example of an innacurate tweet

We live in a time where what people do and say online has more ramifications than ever. A misplaced social media post can cause an international controversy, stop a person from getting a job even topple a president if incorrectly tweeted.

So what do we do to stop this sort of incident from happening again? Well the simple answer is: nothing. We can’t be seen to do anything that impinges on the rights of individuals to express their opinions & observations, no matter how misguided or inaccurate those opinions or observations may be.

There is one thing we can do that will capitalise on this incident that will stop it from occurring again. Talk about it. Raise awareness and a build a consensus of opinion that a) people should be more responsible when they post something on social media and b) that the government should do more to prevent terrorism related hysteria through the use of technology.

Irresponsibility on social media is nothing new, people regularly say and do things online that they later go on to regret (usually the result of alcohol) or delete. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but in todays social media orientated age, the hindsight window has become smaller and smaller. Think to your own social media usage and chances are you will find something you’ve posted that you regret.

I’m not saying be completely responsible but think before you tweet, as Olly Murs has found out when he was called out by Piers Morgan over tweets posted at the time of the incident.

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Murs was forced to defend his tweets, which pointed to a terrorist incident

If the authorities and tube users in London were in possession of the full facts from the outset then the likelihood of this sort of incident occurring would decrease dramatically. It could have been as simple as a speaker system in Oxford street reassuring commuters that there was no danger.

As the amount of information we can access has grown, so has the amount of disinformation that can potentially be made available to us with one click.

I know what you’ll say to me: People are smart, they know what is real and what is fake. Yes a person is smart and can think for themselves, but a group of people are dumb animals that move in herds. You see it on the trains when a platform is announced: people immediately flock to the platform even though it might not be their train. If a person runs away from an incident, people run, thoughts are misplaced and before you know it you have mass hysteria.

How do we respond to this? Simple, we use information in the right way. Instead of proliferating it as we have done with the internet and social media, we encourage a climate which favours focussed information gathering rather than click bait.

It could be as simple as an advertising campaign by the social media and search engine companies, something which encourages social responsibility in the same way that gambling adverts now have to carry the responsible gambling message, internet websites and social media could do the same.

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GambleAwares campaign has been shown to reduce instances of problem gambling: could something similar be done on social media?

Regulation of social media is and can be easily spun as censorship, contravening the aforementioned freedom of speech. However if the social media and internet industry voluntarily signs up to a commitment to place responsibility messages at the heart of their offering, then social media can grow up and be seen as the responsible arm of a free and independent people.

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Should we encourage social responsibility on social media?

It’s a win-win for the social media and internet industries, which are increasingly being seen as harbingers of disinformation and stupidity that disseminate information when ever they want and with no checking system. This sort of charter could end that perception and negate the need for increased regulation of social media.

One thing is for sure, without an effective deterrent social media will become the archetypal ‘boy who cried wolf’ and there is a high chance that if such an attack were real, people would ignore it entirely.

More casualties would be the likely result and any subsequent investigation would be hampered by the amount of disinformation online. We must not allow that to happen, we need to act now while the incident is fresh in people’s minds.

As with anything it begins and ends with you. You are the catalyst that can cause this change, simply by being more socially aware.

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Phone Zombies: A new stage in human evolution?

We’ve all seen them, at some point in our environment we may have even been one of them: Phone Zombies. People so engrossed in their phones that they walk along the street with their heads bowed ignorant of any outside stimulus.

They aren’t just on the street, they are on trains, in pubs, in coffee shops and restaurants, people who are so drawn in by their smartphones that they see and hear nothing else. They could cause accidents, be the victims of muggings even die and nothing would stop them from staying with their mobile phones.

I was recently in my local weatherspoons meeting with friends before going out for an evening meal and one of my friends looked at another table and there were three guys sitting there not talking to each other, just staring down at their respective mobile phones. Now if I had done that with my friends for any length of time it would have been seen as rude, but what is normal for one group isn’t always normal for another.

We all considered this strange dichotomy, with one of my friends going so far as to ditch social media and his phone for the better part of a week. Examining this further, it seemed to be a generational thing: the day-to-day usage of smartphones seemed to increase with each generation, millennials would use mobile phones more than their generation y or x counterparts.

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An all too common site in the world today or a symptom of something larger?

However this seems to be too easy an explanation dismissing the fact that many people in these opposing generations use their phones just as much as the main smartphone using groups.

The use of smartphones is the first inclusive social phenomenon in so much as it doesn’t vary from social class to social class, working class people use their phones just as much as the people perceived to be the social elite. People have become so dependent on their smartphones, that they retain an almost drug like addiction to them.

So we have to take a wider view, applying this logic to us as a species and the mediums used to communicate: after all a phone is just a tool which we use to access this stream of consciousness, it is the stream that shapes the debate.

In the times before the internet (seems strange to think that it’s only been around for 30 years), people communicated with the methods at their disposal: landline telephones, letters, spoken word debates, newspapers and television.  We didn’t have the sort of broad reaching far ranging access to the world that we have today.

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might have gone a little too far back in the way back machine

One might argue that this was a better time, but we still had ignorance, prejudice and things that were not documented. Now we have the ability to access the latest news, social interactions and the ability to air our views in a way that we have never had before. This should be the greatest time to be a human being, where we can truly change our world and know what it truly is to be human.

But it isn’t. In shaping our online world we have pulled away from the community aspect of humanity, we have become introverted individuals with everything to say online, but with nothing to say in the real world.

One of the greatest strengths of humanity is that humans build communities, we come together with a common cause to shape our surroundings and grow as a collective. That is how evolution occurs. Communities now seem to be moving online and as a species we are losing that aspect of coming together.

I can hear the voices saying: We come together online? Yes we do, but how much of that is definitive, how much is a person actively saying yes: I want to be a part of this community and shape its future and how much of it is just a click without conviction or an opinion without grounding.

We have the clarity of the written word, but the word is only as good as the writer and can easily be interpreted incorrectly or manipulated to suit a specific set of facts or guidelines. We have political leaders using twitter when they should be using their mouths and in some cases causing international incidents in the process.

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The twitter president: Donald Trump

So now we move onto the next part of the debate: human beings are doing more things online and through their smartphones than at any point in previous history. We talk online, we date online, we play games online, we contribute to debates online, we organise social interactions online.

As the technology evolves will we eventually become non talking apes who are incapable of articulating ourselves unless a wi-fi connection is present?

I would argue, yes we are. Technology is our friend, yes in so much as it has enabled us to enrich our lives, growing beyond the normal confines of our species to a point where we can become something different.

However, technological evolution has supplanted physical evolution as the main catalyst for change in the human species. Its like Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park :people were so preoccupied with whether or not they could do a thing, we never stopped to if we should.

I have no issue with the people that say, why not? Its not as if physical evolution has done us any favours, but it has: we have evolved from a bunch of monkeys to the dominant species on this planet.

As our technology has grown and evolved, we have created an environment that is unsustainable, contributing to our increasing isolation as individuals and making us lazier as a species. Phone zombies are just the latest symptom of this problem.

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Is this the future for humanity if technology runs riot?

Should we go door to door and burn our wifi routers and mobile phones?  No, as a society currently going cold turkey would ultimately cause more harm than good, but at some point there will be a movement away from this technology, a technological or physical backlash against the invasion of technology into our lives.

We will lose our drive forward and technology will grow stagnant, at this point the only real change will come from our old friend evolution. We will have to evolve beyond the technology that has brought us to this point, whether that evolution occurs in 1,000 or 10,000 years is anyone’s guess but it will happen, of this I am certain.

Protestors from SACOM (Students and Scho

Will there be a backlash against technology?

Humankind and the hive mind- Our collective future?

The largest ant colony on planet Earth was found in Hokkaido Japan, in 2009. The estimated population of the colony was a whopping 306 million ants, all existing in total harmony and working towards the same goal: the continued survival of the colony.

The current human population of planet Earth is 7.3 billion individuals. Each of these individuals has their own sociological imperative, their own wants and desires and they all pursue different aims in very different ways. Everyone is trying to have it all, regardless of their community and the planet around them.

But what if they didn’t, what if every person worked towards the same goal, the ultimate benefit of the colony/planet as a whole?

What would that entail and would it benefit mankind to sacrifice individualism in pursuit of something better, the success of the species?

The sceptics among you would argue that we already sacrifice individualism for a collective set of aims and ideas when we turn on our electronic devices, our phones and televisions and indeed our computers. I would be inclined to agree with this scepticism having seen so many people become addicted to their computers and so many phone zombies on the streets in the mornings on my way to work.

Although there is a perceived collectivism, there is a crucial distinction as we can choose to ignore these distractions when we are proceeding on our individual set of goals. Collective ideas and thoughts explored in media may influence our thinking to varied degrees but they do not motivate us.

One could argue that this media could be used to make this collectivism a reality, through the use of manipulation both conscious and subconscious. Is the internet a first step in this journey?

When thinking about it, we all connect to it and it does determine what many people do, is it a collective intelligence by another name? Or is it just a method of communication.

The logical progression to this would be a centralised system which humanity could plug into to receive its objectives and plans for the day/month/year in the same way that the ant receives its own biological imperatives through its genes. Ants are grouped and perform tasks based on their biological disposition. Soldier ants are geared differently to worker ants and so on.

Humans, while not possessing the clear biological distinctiveness of Ants could be split into groups based on things like their location, their age and their natural attributes. Those intellectually gifted individuals could be tasked with improving the earth as whole while those predisposed to physical labour could be tasked with commensurate tasks to their abilities.

Individuals unable to work or too old to do so would not have to work as their imperatives could be tailored to their situation, they could be tasked with recording and documenting the collective history of the species. This would avoid the ostracising of these individuals which exists in our independent society, in so much as everyone would have a purpose.

In the same way as ants follow a queen, humans could follow a technological queen. That is to say a computer system which could devise and impart imperatives to every member of the species. It is crucial to ensure that this computer is not corrupted or co-opted by an individual/group of individuals and used to further their own ends.

The base for this collective consciousness exists already and would only need to be augmented by new technologies which would need to both integrate into our bodies and likewise integrate into our minds.

Physical technological integration would involve a similar set up to the human nervous system, with various parts transmitting and receiving data to a central hub in the same way that the brain currently does.

Technological integration from a mind based standpoint would most likely involve the integration of a device into the cognitive areas of the brain. This device could impart the imperatives of the greater human colony as a whole and given time/technological expansion could send and receive messages in a way far more efficient than any other current human method of communication.

Additionally, greater pooled intelligence would lead to quicker achievement of technological advances because one person tackling a problem takes time to solve it but 7.3 billion people solving one problem at the same time will solve the problem far sooner.

Biological advances gained from collectivising human consciousness could be used to breed generations of humans which can be of greater service to the colony as a whole. The problem is that increased manipulation may result in aberrations in the species and could also result in a kind of genetically lead society.

Sociological structures, groups and pastimes may survive but under a collective banner. The pastimes and entertainments of the few could become the collective entertainments and pastimes of all. They would provide the populous with an outlet while also enabling the collective to reinforce their collective consciousness or imperatives, which could be of great benefit to both.

Also the possibilities of species expansion to other planets are greatly increased due to the collective pooling of both intellectual and physical labour. Greater exploration and expansion of our own presence on this world could be beneficial to the indigenous animals but it may not. The collective consciousness imperative to preserve the colony could potentially slant towards a conservation imperative and with the absence of independent thought many species which are being hunted could be left alone to eventually thrive.

The problem is the one thing that defines us as individuals, our own free will. It is the greatest evolutionary gift we have and it has enabled us to achieve so much as individuals, but does free will hinder us from achieving our true potential as a species?

This question cannot be answered without diverging from the purpose of this blog which is to establish if humankind would benefit from a collective consciousness….

Would a human being be able or willing to suborn their own free will in order to have a greater purpose or be happy?

For many people, having a sense of purpose and being happy are things that remain elusive despite all their efforts to achieve them. Discontent with individual situations can often cause emotional disorders like depression or a desire to escape from reality which in turn can lead to bad habits/addictions. Being happy becomes an entire life’s pursuit, a pursuit which can often lead to naught.

But if these individuals were willing to suborn their free will in order to achieve this sense of purpose and happiness then theoretically they would achieve it. Their new purpose would be the collective purpose or whatever duties they are assigned to under this collective consciousness. The achieving of their tasks would be supported by the collective and ultimately their happiness could be drawn from the collective purpose.

They would be happy because they wouldn’t know any better as the free will to choose another vocation or be stimulated by other pursuits would not exist. The grass wouldn’t be greener on the other side because there would be no grass other than the collective grass.

Those who are already happy and have a purpose would undoubtedly rail against this attempt to collectivise the human species. Those that have it all will fight the hardest to keep it. But would they succeed against a newly collectivised humanity? Maybe, Maybe not.

Currently a collective will can topple governments and impart great change to structures both political and sociological, so one could argue the fight against a collective will would be a losing one.

Other casualties of collectivising human consciousness would be many of the world’s religions which would flounder due to the absence of free will and the absence of individuals to participate in worship. The potential side effect of this could be the growth of a neophyte religion within the collective consciousness. The collective will and imperative could become the religion for the newly collectivised populous.

The nation state with all its trappings may lead to the growth of independent colonies in the guise of states but as humanity collectivises itself the nation state could become irrelevant. Distances and borders are already to some degree irrelevant and greater sharing of information/consciousness would only serve to exacerbate this.

In any transaction involving a group of individuals there are winners and losers. Whether the losers outnumber the winners will play a significant part in whether the collective consciousness is implemented.

The question that needs to be asked is if the human race does implement this collective consciousness does it become something other than the human race. Would it simply be the human collective and could it be considered as one rather than a number. As we continue to evolve we may naturally develop a collective consciousness as a biological imperative and the collectivisation of humanity may occur anyway.

At the moment the human species is so split and discordant that the implementation of a collective consciousness becomes a virtual impossibility but it is possible to see a time in the future of our species where a collective consciousness could become both appealing and potentially implementable.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.