Going critical, going remote

I just finished a video chat with about dozen people from all around the world. I’ve never spoken to any of them before. There was no company or organization behind this meeting, no business incentive for people to join, and no formal goal to be achieved. The group spontaneously assembled around The I.I. Manifesto and the values it stands for, intellectual curiosity being one of them. One person suggested on Twitter that folks who resonate with I.I. start their own discussion club, and that’s more or less how it all happened.

This first meeting was loosely focused on Kevin Simler’s interactive essay called Going Critical, about how ideas, trends, and infectious diseases spread across the population, and what factors decide whether one will die out or spread infinitely. I’d strongly recommend reading the whole thing and playing around with all the simulations embedded in it. A single interactive animation in this article might be the best argument for vaccination I’ve seen to date.

We discussed many different angles in this chat, but what struck me most personally was how many ideas can only spread in a certain environment. The article uses rural vs urban areas as an example, even when everyone is equally likely to adopt a new idea, only a big city might have enough interpersonal connections for one to catch on. Only the most viral trends can survive anywhere, most of them requires that enough people are able to hear about them.

New ideas are also seldom the work of a lone genius, sharing their discoveries with the world. It often takes a village, or a global hive mind to collaboratively come up with something new and unexpected. In this case it’s especially critical to be surrounded by likeminded people who can challenge, expand on, and refine your ideas. It’s telling that most people on the call joined from the Bay Area. Even among global hubs, this place especially attracts folks with certain values and character traits.

Luckily, in the era of internet we’re no longer constrained by physical proximity. Even if you’re the only person in your village interested in Mars colonization, artificial intelligence, or metarationalism, there will be plenty people online willing to discuss these with you. There are dangers to this, such as ISIS recruiting mostly on social media, but the very same social media can be used to start a club like this one. The I.I. wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Twitter. Even if there’s in the Bay Area interested in this, they’d need to know about one another somehow. In-person meetings are still the best way for people to bond, but they’re no longer required to create something meaningful together.

For the past few years, more and more aspects of my life are no longer bound by physical location. Since I work for Automattic, my team is spread across 60 countries on every continent except Antarctica. I found my spiritual tribe in the HighExistence community that has members all around the globe. And even though in-person meetups are certainly the main highlight of working remotely, and HighExistence wouldn’t contribute to my growth that much if it wasn’t for in-person retreats, the vast majority of idea exchange in both of these groups is happening online. You don’t need to get together in the same room to work together or support each other’s spiritual growth. I can’t wait to see what kind of connections The I.I. is going to facilitate, and how it’s going to evolve over time.

Leave a Reply