In Science Fiction (and in science) there is the trope of the “virus” that infects but does not kill its host so it can spread. In sci-fi, the virus makes a major change in the nature of the host, turning it into something else entirely, regardless of whether or not the host continues to look like it did before the change. Whether it is zombies, vampires, werewolves, or some other fundamental change, the term “virus” is used to conceptualize or describe how the organism spreads and alters its host.
Here’s how Sci-fi became real…
When we first got ready access to affordable computers that could be hooked into a “web” and interconnected, we learned about viruses pretty fast. Everyone got a crash course in how evil hackers could place malware in the system that would then spread and make your computer a host that would then perform the bidding of the hackers. You know the rest. But here’s how we got there. Skipping backward for a minute.
Once upon a time and forever, families gathered around the fire or the hearth where the fire burned. From our beginning, human young looked into the flames while the elders talked and told stories. Socialization, wisdom, and culture were handed down as everyone stared into the flickering light. Later, outside information and ideas usually had to come in print form and everything was vetted and tested by the elders. Books were expensive and rare until they got cheaper and more portable. Ideas were difficult to transmit and virality was very, very slow.
But, cheaper and more portable was the key that unlocked what would follow.
The concept of virality (when it comes to programming) was birthed when publishing became easier and less expensive. This concept of virality taught social scientists and cultural change agents that they no longer needed to proselytize as they did in the past — through long treatises or polemical books. Changing minds and hearts was a difficult process once upon a time, but a change was coming. The days of whistlestop speeches from the backs of train cars or endless meetings and speeches in union halls or proselytizing on street corners came. In Harlem or middle America or in the deep south in the 1930s we had the term “soapbox,” because preachers or teachers or cult leaders or politicians would walk out on the street corners with a ladder or an actual wooden box and stand up and just start speaking while assistants or co-religionists handed out tracts to passersby. Information that had once been hidden in books and reference works was shortened, truncated, abridged, and printed in these shorter tracts or treatises. Shorthand when compared to Plato or Aristotle or the Bible.
The Age of Revolution was augmented by the printing press. Ideas became cheaper and more portable.
Then came the radio…
The radio changed things a lot. Dogmas, philosophies, social ideas, etc. could now be seeded in everything from songs to dramas to soap commercials, but people still sat together around the dinner table or on their front porches with their family members or friends and there was an objective reality against which the social programming could be compared and judged. Change still happened, but it happened very slowly. It is interesting, however, to consider how these programming methods share similarities though they change through time.
At the beginning of the modern information age, the radio was placed in the middle of the living room… like the hearth before it. There was only one in the house and everyone gathered after a day of work or study and listened at the same time. The dial was lighted and in the gathering dusk and darkness, the family stared into the new light. They gathered around the radio for programs or entertainment or news — fireside chats — and the children had their parents and extended family around to ‘vet’ or filter what was being said.
Ideas no longer percolated and changed or expanded in the minds of the elders before being transmitted to the youth through the moderation of wisdom and experience. The elders could be (somewhat) bypassed, but they still served as filters and could block particularly harmful ideas. The elders themselves, instead of being fountainheads off wisdom and ideas, became a form of anti-virus software (so to speak.)
But then something interesting happened. Radios got smaller and cheaper and a teenager could buy one for their own room, or get a portable transistor radio that they could carry with them. The programming was now separated from any moderation, filtering, or oversight. The anti-virus protection was removed. We went from “Sentimental Journey” to “Rock Around the Clock” in a decade. Fragmentation of the family was begun, but it was still slow work.
Then the TV was moved in…
The Television, like the radio before it, was placed in the middle of the living room. The family unit gathered around it and watched it together in the evenings, staring into the flickering light. There was some discussion and even censoring done through the dynamics of the family unit. Again, alas, televisions got cheaper and smaller and eventually, a teenager could get one in their own room. Once again, the programming changed because it no longer had to be presented to the whole family. The anti-virus protection was removed. I want my MTV…
Then came the computer. Same pattern. But this time it happened faster. Our first computer was set up in the living room. We had to take turns on it. When the Internet came, you had to unplug the family phone to plug into the Internet and everyone could watch what you were doing on it because they were usually waiting to get on it after you. Then the computers got smaller and faster and more portable. We learned about viruses and how our computers could be taken over and made into slaves to spread malware and such to other computers. We didn’t know that this same process (everything you’ve read up until now) was also going on in the mind.
Then came the smartphone… a portable flickering firelight you can hold in front of your face.
You get the gist. Each change was a wedge that fragmented the family unit, removed traditional censoring and anti-virus protection, then fragmented the human brain itself. Specialization — which had started and multiplied rapidly with the Industrial Revolution — gained steam and then took over. The concept of “Intelligence” was changed from a knowledge of universal truths and “wholes” to mean an advanced understanding of ever-smaller systems and specialties. Heisenberg. We lost any ability to pan out and see things as wholes. Everything outside our niche was farmed out to other specialists. The brain (and more particularly the mind) was chiseled away and re-formed, wiped then formatted. Prepared for the virus. All traditional anti-viruses were removed and replaced with a very centralized system of information dispersal controlled by a small cabal of people who had control over information.
The same people in charge of the narrative determine what is misinformation, disinformation, and your daily facts.
If you don’t see it now, you never will.
As the computer revolution advanced, devices got cheaper and more portable. Ideas are now transmitted in smaller and smaller bits — fewer words, more pictures. The meme, seemingly harmless, transmits ideas directly past all reason and logic barriers and can be shared widely in seconds. Meme-mills run by think tanks and change agents centralize thought processes. Memes become programming chips for people who’d been infected and turned into mostly mindless retransmission vectors. All filtering and anti-virus has been bypassed. The old landmarks are removed. Your neighbor still looks like your neighbor but he/she is an autobot that spews daily talking points from their particular granfalloon. The mass-man has no capacity for ideation or critical thinking. She is given her thoughts by the TV and the computer and dutifully reports what the narrative makers say for that day. Tabula Rasa. There is no institutional memory, no capacity for original thought. No moderation of certainty.
The mass-man has arrived. The Non-Player Characters. They are real and they are everywhere.
End of Part 1.
This isn’t sci-fi or conspiracy theory. This is a present fact.