Deja vu

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

David Crosby, Deja vu (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young : Deja Vu)



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.

Or, on the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon’s tragic death, perhaps I should just say “Imagine“.

[To be continued].

16 thoughts on “Deja vu”

  1. That’s funny; I thought you were going to move on and talk about Google Glass:-) But I feel as though my online friends ARE my village. I grew up in atomized New York and moved to Arizona, where everyone is from somewhere else and is a red-stater. Online is where I “live.”

  2. Deja vu… I wrote a post about this a year or two ago but I won’t link to it cos yours is much better. Totally agree.
    The world is shrinking. I wrote about in the old days we would all talk over the garden fence, because we knew everyone in the street. News would spread on the bush telegraph, good news, bad news, gossip… Nowadays the news spreads digitally, fb, twitter, blogs. Families are scattered to the four corners of the earth, but thanks to technology they can still come together to share the joy.
    I would be lost without skype. My grandchildren call to see the dog every day, and when they visit in real life they aren’t shy because they know me. And the dog.

  3. nice thought. thanks for sharing. :) i guess this is in line with the ‘global village’ thought..and what we are seeing is the implementation at the grass root level of that thought. :)

    to ensure that it helps to increase peace, harmony and prosperity, it must be channelized responsibly.

  4. This is not only a lovely piece of thinking it is a beautiful and lyrical piece of writing. The ideas flow with the words and the effect is very satisfying. Thank you JP.

  5. @Ann, if beautiful thinking and writing are inspirational then I offer Tolstoy on Love and Violence, before describing how this relates to business:

    “The ideal of Ant Brothers clinging lovingly to one another, only not under two armchairs curtained by shawls, but of all the people of the world under the wide dome of heaven, has remained unaltered for me. As I then believed that there was a little green stick whereon was written something which would destroy all evil in men and give them great blessings, so I now believe that such truth exists among people and will be revealed to them and will give them what it promises.”

  6. I agree completely with your thoughts JP. In so many ways we are going “Home”. Mary Meeker’s year end slide deck on the web also made the point that the advent of the web is also reducing our “need” to each separately own property. The home is once again becoming the centre of the economy and the separation between work and family ending for many.

    We have millions of years of evolved habit under our modern skins – This is why I call this process “Going Home” – Going home to a culture that we fit in best. Not in caves and wearing skins but using the principles. of our natural culture.

  7. Interesting post… However, IMO it misses a subtle but crucial point: As a substantial body of sociology research has shown (see: Dunbar) there are clearly limits on the different group sizes and how the group dynamics change as group size increases. E.g. We now know for a fact that the max nr. of ppl that can trust each others is (aprox) 15; That the size of our neurocortex imposes limits on our social grooming abilities (e.g. Dunbar’s number); etc etc.

    As these limits are fundamentally due to human physiology (body size, grooming patterns etc) and not so much about technological abilities, I’m afraid we let ourselves being seduced by the promise of technology and pretend (hope ?) they can substitute fundamental qualities like physical proximity, unplanned direct interaction and serendipity.

  8. Florian, I was specifically underpinning the Dunbar number. The whole tone of the post is a set-up for saying there is no such thing as “the global village”…. Instead, there are global villages. Plural. See earlier comments and my next post.

  9. Thanks for the clarification JP. I suspect we agree, but subject needs a bit more attention (esp. from my own part). Yes, technology can — and obviously does — reduce the limits previously imposed by geographical reach / direct physical interaction, but I’m still unable to fully articulate (ergo: suspicious) of to what effect it will have on human interaction dynamics. At the end of the day as humans we have the ability to assimilate this in our daily lives (just like all prev. technological advances) but, personally, I’d clearly stop short in making any predictions / conjectures on that. Instead I simply notice — and fully enjoy — its present and palpable effects. Like this very interaction, for example :)

    Goes w/o saying I’m looking forward to next post. And thanks for the clarification.

  10. I wonder if we are ready? As a consequence of dislocation and disambiguation on many fronts, there are far too many people that do not know what it is like to have that level of intimacy and increasingly, the experience of intimacy is through channels that cannot express the full scope of what it is like to be connected. For those that do not have digital channels, the physical intimacy with an analogue village may seem claustrophobic. Maybe one of the jobs of the future will be to help both broad groups of people make the transition to middle earth, helping the integration across the here and there of analogue and digital.

Let me know what you think

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