The growth of biotech arises from the increasing miniaturisation of digital devices, networked and otherwise. MIT researchers have designed a computer in a pill, a nanocomputer that monitors stomach temperatures after swelling up in size once in the stomach.

In time, we will have such devices constantly monitoring our bodies, catching threats and changes before we are physically aware of them. But these devices will also be communicating to larger meganets, and that will inevitably bring meganet feedback effects into play as we react to other people’s health information and cluster ourselves by any number of health metrics. Staying away from people whose internal devices report them as sick will just be the start. We will seek out the “healthiest” people in the hopes of benefiting our own health, and tracking one’s health metrics will become a competitive and increasingly public matter among friends.

Outside our bodies, meganet-connected devices will be everywhere, transforming our transportation systems. As we automate driving, the interplay of our own transportation decisions, our car’s algorithms, and GPS and road condition information will create their own feedback loops, optimising traffic but also shunting it in sometimes bizarre directions. All of this travel information will be collected as well for study by private and public entities, and that too will feed back on itself. Destinations will know when visitors and customers are arriving as soon as they set out, and visitors will know ahead of time whether a particular trip is even worth the journey.

Public discourse, already immensely destabilised and decentered in the last ten years, will fracture to a far greater degree. While we are already witnessing the decline of any sort of centralised, elite control over messaging and information, we are still only in the early period of meganet-driven, self organising communities, which have barely begun to congeal. The large, loose coalitions we see, often aligned with a particular large-scale political or social movement, will fragment further into medium sized, far more insular communities.

Where today we have large-scale movements like MAGA or Black Lives Matter loosely organised around a hashtag, the greater penetration and organisation of meganets will make such large-scale groupings less common, instead solidifying smaller organisations with more elaborate and fixed beliefs. Assisted by immersive technologies like VR, these communities will feel considerably more real than today’s online communities, which themselves already hold such a grip over so many. People will feel a greater sense of belonging and will be warmly accepted as the meganet intrinsically draws similarly minded people together and keeps their antagonists away from them. The degree of likeness in these communities will be intense; people will feel they’ve found their community like never before. Agreement won’t be manufactured so much as it will be artificially organised.

Consequently, the unit of online expression (and frequently offline expression) will no longer be the individual but the group. In the past, quantifying the importance of any single human voice has been a matter of cultural values and inegalitarian class structures. Individuals in the right places had louder voices. Those forces of selection will remain, but by grouping people into like-minded units, the meganet provides easy measures of a group’s importance in terms of its overall size, as well as other measurable qualities of the collective group such as occupation, background, cryptocurrency holdings, and so on. An individual may speak temporarily for a larger group, but the meganet augurs an age in which human expression is fundamentally far more collective. Because of the meganet’s unique and supercharged capacity for identifying commonality and bringing like together with like, groups of people will be able to speak with singular voices as never before.

They will be able to engage and argue with other groups as single units, a hundred or even a thousand people marching in lockstep after having affirmed their similarities and ignored their differences. A lone individual will count for very little in such an environment. There will still be very popular people online, of course, but they won’t set the agenda; they will be the mouthpieces for the points of view of the groups that spawned them.

Life itself will be more relentlessly tallied, refereed, and scored, as meganets bring quantifiable monetary value to all activities. Today, we may take momentary pride in seeing positive feedback on a post, but as meganets merge and personal identity and reputation spread across all of online and offline life, such gratification will become longer lasting, as more permanent measures of reputation start accruing and attaching to our digital mirages. The result won’t be something like the imagined Chinese Social Credit System but something more superficially casual, a scoreboard that measures how interested you are in various areas of online life and how much you’ve contributed to them. Those measures will, however, insidiously contribute to one’s reputation and opportunities over time; the ability to start anew with a clean slate will vanish, as you will always be trailed by an increasingly organised and accessible trail of statistics that summarises your life to date. Corporations and social groups will increasingly frame such metrics in the language of games to be won, whether the prize is attention, money, or opportunities.

People will not only coalesce around anger but also around positive emotions: empathy, solidarity, inspiration, and the like. It will not be inhuman but almost more than human, a sense of belonging beyond what we feel around random strangers or casual acquaintances. It will not be an age of alienation but rather one of ultraconformity within cloistered groups. The larger social structures that formerly linked humans together ideologically and communally will remain, but they will continue to decline in importance. Individuals will gain fame within their groupings, but the size of celebrity will shrink overall, as people famous within one miniculture will be unknown to others.

The 19th-century German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies theorised that the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation that followed had moved human sociality away from traditional community organisation (Gemeinschaft) and toward a larger, civic, more artificial society (Gesellschaft). Among historians and sociologists, Tönnies’s dichotomy proved to be a popular explanation for 20th-century
alienation of all sorts. Yet the meganet, like no other force, has provided a way to reestablish community-sized organisations – to find one’s tribe, however geographically distributed its members may be.

Excerpted with permission from Meganets: How Digital Forces Beyond Our Control Commandeer Our Daily Lives and Inner Realities, David B Auerbach, Hachette India.