Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Noosphere

As I've mentioned here before, son Tom has been researching the family tree. I'm amazed at what is available on the internet: census records, property surveys, military records, birth certificates, and so on. He has followed some branches of the family back to the 17th century. I always thought our name was a corruption of the French Rameau. It turns out that our French ancestor was a Raymond.

Anyway, his research prompted a discussion on what technological development of our lifetime has had the greatest effect on how we live our lives. The internet has changed how we communicate, how we organize social relationships, how we get our news, how we shop, how we conduct our finances, how we monitor our health, and just about every other aspect of our lives. I do without television for half of the year; I'd be hard pressed to do without the internet.

But if we are talking about my lifetime, maybe antibiotics and vaccines would be a contender. The further back one goes with Tom's research, the more one encounters lives snipped off in the bud -- children dying of diphtheria, scarlet fever, infections, and so on. Better to be alive, I suppose, than to have Facebook, Blogger, Google Earth, and Quicken/TurboTax.

Still, children died and families got on with their lives. Here's the Raymo boys (my dad on the right) dressed for baseball in 1924. Not much has changed here -- the same pinstripes, the same gear. Drop these kids into 2010 and I'll bet the thing they'd be most astonished at is the internet.

How quickly it happened. Apparently organically. Who understands it? Someone, surely. But for the vast majority of us, it as natural and ubiquitous and the air we breathe, binding all the knowledge and peoples of the world into an almost seamless unity. Teilhard de Chardin anticipated it as the Noosphere, an inevitable successor of the Biosphere, a kind of superorganic being of its own, driven by thought rather than biochemical metabolism, wrapping the planet in an invisible electronic "mist", integrating individual humans as the human body integrates the cells that make it up.