Having finalised The Futurica Trilogy with my co-writer Jan Söderqvist five years ago, I thought I had pretty much said what could be said about the Internet revolution from a cyberphilosopher's perspective. Mission accomplished. However this was before I attended Burning Man -- the world's biggest and most famous participatory festival -- in the Nevada desert in the United States.
There and then I realized what was obvious for me as an outsider looking in: Burning Man is the first obvious example of how the Internet is manifesting itself in the physical rather than the virtual world. The festival may be an exact copy of the Internet, but it comes in physical shape and form (check Google Earth to see for yourself). The theme of our new, fourth book was obviously right before my eyes. Why is this huge and influential phenomenen happening now, and what are the hidden forces behind it?
Interestingly, to the 70,000-plus participants, Burning Man is nothing less than a sacred activity on holy ground. The counterculture festival can fittingly be described as a hajj to Mekka or pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Silicon Valley web entrepreneus. There would hardly have been any Google, Facebook or Twitter as we know them without this event. So if we are to understand the current Internet revolution and its enormous effects on society and ourselves, we have to understand Burning Man and its over 30 fast expanding spin-offs around the world. Learning from participatory culture is key to understanding the future of everything. And this has to start with the insight that was goes on here is, for lack of a better term, actually a fast growing religious phenomenon.
Today's digital natives have grown up online and consequently consider the online world to be primary while the physical world is secondary, the exact opposite of their parents' priorities. No matter how much the older generation moralises against this shift of world view, the younger generation will win out simply because it has become more rewarding and relevant to view the virtual world as the real one. And learning from history, there is no turning back. However this does not mean that the physical world is of no interest to the digital natives. Rather it is now viewed with a completely different set of glasses, mainly as a playground where virtual fantasies can be be staged.
The physical world has become a second added reality, but with the Internet generation's obsession with co-creation and participatory culture at the forefront. Welcome to the world of Syntheism, the proper term for this new world view and social movement. The digital natives have thrown away their parents' individualism and atomism, and replaced the old Cartesian word view with a metaphysical system of relationalism and network dynamics. Everything from the new physics to new political movements, calling for environmentalism and digital integrity, originate from and is immersed with this new metaphysical conviction.
All we had to do as philosophers was to pull the rabbit out of the hat and formulate Syntheism -- meaning God can be created rather than any God who has created us -- as the religion of choice for the Internet generation. In historical terms, Syntheism is the overcoming of the old and tired divide between theism and atheism. First as practice, now also as theory. The result is our new book Syntheism -- Creating God in The Internet Age. And we are certainly not alone, serious thinkers like Simon Critchley and Quentin Meillassoux and pop philosophers like Sam Harris and Alain de Botton have recently and successfully adressed the very same issue. We tap into a qide and urgent need for a new spirituality beyond Christianity and New Age. What nobody foresaw though was that the Internet itself would be both the tool and the metaphor for this movement.
The dramatic effects this revolution will have on communication and the workplace can not be overestimated. The Individual is dead, long live the Swarm. Everything important from now on will be about interactivity, co-creation, collaboration (a loved child is given many names), and it will first and foremost be a cultural rather than a technological shift. Sure, this shift is based on tehnological change, but it is fundamentally cultural nevertheless. Teaching armies of professional communicators to communicate with friends rather than to shout at strangers is in itself an enormous challenge (do they even have any friends to begin with?). Corporations still spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising in 2014, despite the fact that the proper word for advertising online is spam and we all hate it and instantly throw it away.
The only chance to survive in this new environment is to learn and adapt fast or else become irrelevant and die. And the key to understanding this paradigm shift lies within the fastest growing and most important online community in the world, Burning Man and its many spin-offs. Perhaps we are the first philosophers to take this huge phenomenon seriously. But we will cerrtainly no be the last. How many close friends do you have who live and work in Silicon Valley? How many burns have you and your closest friends attended? Today those questions determine how much power and influence you exert on the world. And on your very own future.
Syntheism - Creating God in The Internet Age by Alexander Bard & Jan Söderqvist is released on October 4. On 10th of October, Bard will give a speech titled "The Hero is Dead - Long Live the Heroic Crowd" at Frankfurt StoryDrive at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
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