Psycho Babble

As last week's babble seemed for some unaccountable reason to wander towards a science fictional theme, I thought I might as well follow up this week with something from my favorite (well, one of my favorite) sci-fi authors. I refer, of course, to the unforgettable Isaac Asimov. I got to thinking about his work while watching a TV program about how the Internet is shaping our lives, and how the future for young people will be influenced - and even (rather worryingly) - controlled by the social media sites and commercial content producers that inhabit it.

Asimov's famous character Hari Seldon, a mathematics professor at Streeling University on Trantor, developed the science of psychohistory, which effectively provides a way to accurately model the collective behavior of entire galactic populations over very long periods of time. Thus he could predict with unerring accuracy the major events that will befall each civilization; such as wars, plague, pestilence, and lack of Internet connectivity (OK, so I made that last one up).

But, anyway, until a rogue being appears on the scene, all is running pretty much according to plan and the regular appearances that his holographic automaton makes prove amazingly accurate. And there are some people who think that psychohistory could, in fact, be a reality and not just fiction. Adolphe Quetelet's "Social Physics" and John Xenakis's "Generational Dynamics" follow a similar theme, and there's even whole Web sites devoted to the science of "Cliodynamics".

Thing is, it seems that an increasing proportion of the population is influenced more and more by what they see on the Web. I'm personally not a twitterer or spacebooker, and I tend to avoid networking sites such as LinkedIn and the plethora of similar ones on the grounds that I'm too busy working with computers to spend my leisure time at the keyboard. I'm certainly not interested in what Stephen Fry had for breakfast this morning, and I'm quite content with having about 4,999,980 less friends than Lady Gaga.

Meanwhile, psychohistory relies on two axioms: the population whose behavior is modeled must be sufficiently large, and must be unaware that psychohistorical analysis is taking place. It's probably safe to say that the population of twitterers, spacebookers, diggers, stumblers, and the like is sufficiently large; and I'd imagine they're too busy twittering and spacebooking to notice that we're watching them. So the axioms should hold. Therefore, what can we actually predict? How about:

  • In August 2012, following an unusually violent thunderstorm, there will be mass suicides when a stray lightning bolt puts the global mobile phone network out of action and millions of users are unable to update their diglinkedspacebook status.
  • In May 2013 there will be food riots and millions will die of starvation in areas where grocery stores have failed to implement "one-click" purchasing at checkouts.
  • In November 2015 somebody will discover that you can write on physical walls using permanent materials such as spray paint, and a whole new art form will start to evolve. In December, they will receive a court summons from Banksy for plagiarism.
  • In September 2017 violence will break out at huge protest meetings by authors and writers when the World Government brings in new laws that ban the use of sentences containing more than 140 characters.
  • In July 2018 a total failure of the global DNS system caused by the volume of circular references from users favoriting digs of other peoples tweets that they stumbled upon will disrupt the entire Internet for weeks on end.
  • In October 2021 a new landmark will be reached when every possible combination of alphanumeric characters for user names has been taken, and web sites are required to start accepting Morse code and color spectrums as user names .
  • In January 2025 it will become impossible to receive email as the total number of spam messages arriving each day will now exceed the capacity of the 64-bit index for an email inbox list.
  • In September 2029 the Internet Words Commission will finally bow to pressure to remove all of the vowels from every language as they are no longer required. All communication will be in txt format. The new universal global language will be call "Sprnt".
  • In March 2036 somebody will invent a better system for writing web applications than the current version 18 of HTML. Meanwhile, W3C will just be putting the final touches to the recommendations for HTML 6.
  • In January 2053 it will be almost impossible to contact anybody at all on spacebook because 99% of the owners of the pages it contains will be dead.

All I need now is my holograph likeness, a glass box, and a smoke machine...