The Spiritual Web

You can call it ‘Web 3.0′ if that’s your thing. Or you could be cheeky and call it Megasupertubes or whatever. Hell, call it Carl for all I care. Whatever tech slang or terms of endearment we ultimately invent for the next evolutionary incarnation of the Internet (that’s its proper given name, with a capital I), I believe that it is emerging as an entity that explores the potential of technology to provide a spiritual conduit in our lives.

Web 2.0 was and is all about social. The social experience of ‘connecting’ and ‘friending’ the great human masses is evidence that we’re trying to form a choir, to merge our voices, and to pool our collective knowledge and data into one zone that’s starting to behave an awful lot like a mind. As Douglas Rushkoff puts it, “The real agenda here, if there is one… is the human organism is attempting to evolve to the next level of awareness. We’re trying through our social networks to poke at what it would mean to be a big, collective organism somehow.”

The idea of spiritual transcendence through technology is a concept that I explored in my Smashing Magazine article The Future of the Internet. In that article, I quoted Marshall McLuhan, who asked in 1964: “might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?”

That idea sounds reminiscent of Carl Jung’s concept of the ‘collective unconscious,’ which describes a shared and inherited aspect of human experience that unites us all. The Internet is now powerful enough to provide amplification for this shared spiritual region that exists within us all. Like our dreams, this is an area of the mind that we don’t fully understand. Perhaps our development of the Internet is an expression of our innate curiosity about these mysteries.

Were McLuhan and Jung around today, they’d see that we’ve collaborated on this invention called the Internet, which – in its own inhuman way – has memory (vast quantities of data and information), can think (we use search engines to mine and navigate that collective memory and data), and facilitates communication (social networking comprises the world’s largest and loudest conversation). Of course, the web doesn’t do most of those things on its own – it requires human input to perform most functions. And it receives that input around the clock, every day, from millions of users. Our collective labor (even as we write status updates and edit Wikipedia entries) is an inexhaustible fuel that propels its growth and evolution, day in and day out.

If we are using this powerful tool to pool our voices and our imaginations and our knowledge in order to say something as one, what is it that we’re trying to say? What sites or programs or applications do we need to build to answer that question?

What kinds of entrepreneurs will be the first to utilize (exploit?) this revelation? On social networking sites, users write millions of individual posts, but what if there were a site where contributors all collaborated together on one post or story? I can also imagine an L. Ron Hubbard type of character who invents an Internet-centric religion to cash in on our awe at the power of our creation.

I’m just scratching the surface. That’s what all of this is: scratching the surface of an idea that’s slowly emerging before us. We should consider how we can guide the Internet down this path responsibly, how we might facilitate an understanding of our goals, and how we can use our applications, programs, and designs to ensure that it becomes a positive and beneficial entity. For those of us who are not interested in exploiting the web and would rather guide it towards a valuable and profound means of transcendence, we are going to have our work cut out for us.

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