And you know/It makes me wonder/what’s going on/Under the ground
Do you know?/Don’t you wonder/What’s going on/Down under you?
We have all been here before
Imagine a world where everyone knew you. There was no privacy. Everyone knew who you were, what you did for a living, who your parents were, who your siblings were. They knew your family tree.
When you went out with friends, everyone knew who they were. Where they came from, who their parents were. What they did. Who else they knew. They knew your friend graph.
When you went shopping, the shop staff knew you. What you liked, what you disliked, how often you shopped, where else you shopped.
When you fell ill, everyone knew that too, not just your doctor. Your financial adviser. Your postman. Even your next door neighbour.
Imagine that world.
We used to have that world.
We called it “a village”.
There was a time when people were born, lived and died all within a ten-mile zone. In those days you didn’t need Facebook. Which was a good thing, because Facebook hadn’t been invented yet. Neither had the computer. Nor the television. Nor advertising. Nor even the telephone.Nor the post.
Nor the plane, or train, or car. Not even the bicycle.
Just two hundred years ago.
Humans, however, had been invented. Homo sapiens had already been around for three or four hundred thousand years. And so there were relatives and friends and neighbours. And eating and drinking and parties. And shopping. And Singles and Marrieds and It’s Complicateds.
And then everything changed.
Because transportation began to improve in leaps and bounds, with the bicycle and the train and the car and the plane. All in very quick time.
Until then we had feet and horses and horse-drawn vehicles and boats of different sizes. Other than the feet, many of the other things were largely out of reach of the common man. So there were migrations: navigators, explorers, seafarers. Those migrations created new settlements and new trade routes. But these were still principally the gift of the rich, and included those patronised by the rich.
As that began to change, as man began to be able to afford ways and means to travel long distances, everything began to change. The stable fabric of village society began to tear, and continued to tear; the process of conurbation, which had been idling along for centuries, now went into a new gear.
As man accelerated his ability to migrate, and exercised that ability, something new began to happen. Man discovered privacy. Now humans could hide in plain sight, live where nobody knew their past or their present, their likes or their dislikes, their habits, their patterns. Now humans could revel (?!?) in the new-found ability to not know your neighbour. If you wanted to live quietly by yourself, it became possible.
With this ability to migrate everything began to disaggregate and in some way or form become smaller. Families. Homes. Villages. Relationships. There were fewer large homes being built, because the need wasn’t there. Two-up two-down. Apartments. Flats. Studios. Pieds-a-terre.Time and distance were being inserted into traditional relationships and structures, and modern privacy was being formed.
While all this was happening, something else was happening.
Telegraphy and telephony and radio and television and computing were getting invented and getting better all the time. They too went down the path of getting smaller and disaggregating.
The digital age was being born. And as a result many of these things began to converge. Because they could.
There were many results as a result of this digitalisation, this componentisation, this disaggregation, this later convergence. It disrupted many things, and continues to disrupt many things.
People separated by space and time were slowly getting connected again; initially, this was like the early ships and horse-drawn vehicles, the early bicycles and trains and cars. Too expensive for the common man. So while people were getting connected again, the impact wasn’t necessarily that great or that visible.
And then suddenly it all became affordable and ubiquitous and always-on.
The villages formed again.
This time, though, the villages weren’t physical. They were logical: the villagers could be anywhere in the world while being connected and able to act as a village.
To know close connections and friendships and security. To know the deep relationships hewn out of the oak of time. To know the joys of camaraderie. To know the pain of openness and transparency, the guilt of gossip.
We have all been here before.
[To be continued].