A Natural Selection
This is the part where I’m supposed to explain how we ended up with Brian Monahan as the guest editor of this issue. I’d like to tell you that it began when we had lunch a few months ago, and realized we shared some important ideas about the future of media. But the truth is that it began for me when I was 13. I was a junior high school student in the Bronx and we were being taught two separate, but ultimately related courses. One was called Mass Communication, and it drew heavily from the writing of Marshall McLuhan. It taught us about how media was influencing what we put in our minds and our society. The other was called Hygiene, which focused on the writing of Rachel Carson. It taught us about nutrition, ecology and how we were influenced by what we put in our bodies and our environment. That’s when it hit me that, as far as human beings are concerned, media may be the most important thing, because it shapes how we think about, and behave toward, everything else.
I’ve been trying to tell that story for 40 years, so when I learned that Monahan was trying to tell a similar story, I asked him to collaborate on this issue so we could try and tell it together. But it was his idea to flip the lens, and that instead of talking about how media was evolving, we instead focus on how people were evolving because of media. And in particular, how humans might be beginning to evolve at an accelerated rate, because of the acceleration of the speed of media. A Moore’s Law for media, if you will. We even tried to coin a Monahan’s Law for this issue, but in the end, couldn’t organize the data fast enough to prove it.
When we first began plotting this issue, Monahan was managing director of Interpublic’s vaunted Media Lab, where he was privy to some pretty keen insights on the research and development of future media. By the time we began working on it in earnest, Monahan had moved over to Interpublic’s Magna unit, while his partner in crime, Reuben Steiger took over the lab. I learned what great storytellers Monahan and Steiger were when they collaborated with us on some events MediaPost produced in New York City last Spring.
To help tell the story about how the future of humans was being influenced by the future of media, Monahan came up with a simple, but powerful device – a character who would represent the next stage of human evolution: Homo Mediated. What I learned in the process of producing this issue is that human evolution has been mediated by media as long as there have been humans. As Howard Rheingold notes in an interview in this magazine, it was our ability to create media – at first the language produced by our own voices and intelligent brains, but eventually recorded and distributed media – that enabled early humans to share information and organize cultures that allowed us to compete successfully with rival species. We may not be able to prove scientifically that humans have been evolving physically because of media, but we have definitely evolved culturally because of it. So where do we go from here? Well, if you listen to artificial intelligence guru Ben Goertzel later in this issue, he’ll tell you that technology will advance to the point where we become one with our media – and one with everyone else’s – giving us the ability “to know what everybody else is thinking all the time.” In the meantime, you’ll just have to rely on this magazine.