There's one point in the book where you wrote about the idea of conspiracies as an orderly fantasy that comforts us. Are you more or less inclined to go along with that attitude these days? Oh, I'm more inclined believe it. There are conspiracies. You know, historically, there have been conspiracies, and some of them have affected the course of history, but they aren't often where the real meat is. You know, some other species looking at us from like a thousand years in the future might think, "What happened to those guys? What was the real skinny on that?" And the other alien says, "Internal combustion engines." You know? That's what did it. It wasn't some conspiracy. It was internal combustion engines. And there may have been conspiracies around the course of the internal combustion engines doing to humanity, but they're about money, basically, and keeping the power necessary for certain people to keep the money. But any version of history that somebody can explain to you over the course of two beers is a conspiracy theory.
How do you feel like the use of social networks has contributed to everything from the Arab Spring to Occupy demonstrations over the last year? I don't know. I don't think it's possible to know. It seems like it's not even possible for us to know what network broadcast television has done to us in my entire lifetime, so guessing what the digital has done to politics is really guessing. Obviously it's doing something, but I can't tell. I think reading the Blackberry traffic from those riots in London was really interesting because while you can on one hand see people calling up their friends and arranging to loot the video store, you can also go on Twitter and go back and track the span of completely insane combinations of movements. So everything moves so quickly.
It's amazing that you can take a movement like that which from the outside can look like a giant ball of dust moving through the city and actually see inside of it and hear what's being said. There are going to be amazing anthropological papers written out of that data because you're going to be able to analyze and geo-tag it all. There are so many more ways now to look at stuff, and there are just these extraordinary angles that humanity has to go back and study our own behavior. I think that will really change things, although it may take longer for people to extract the information.
Do you feel like even with other types of riots — the crazy riots in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup finals, for instance, that had nothing to do with any kind of social movement — are those similarly illuminating? Yeah, I actually do, because that kind of riot and riot-like behavior is essentially interesting in itself. It's such an extraordinary aspect of what we are that we're not ordinarily in touch with. I just think it's very interesting to look at what the riot-control specialists have to say about how that works — at least the smarter, less authoritarian riot control specialists. They're basically saying, "We've got to do everything we can to keep these guys in their forebrains where they remember that they have jobs and family and tomorrow and all of those concepts." Because if the crowd washes back into the rest of the brain, which is by far the majority of the brain, it's gonna be a riot. That kind of thinking I find really, really interesting just because of what it says about who and what we are.
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