What is the end goal of “X” formerly known as Twitter? A recent article about a cryptic tweet by Elon Musk tries to make a case for a platform that centralizes mankind’s shared cultural beliefs and values, and, the authors argue that it will not be “X”.
On August 18th, 2023, a thought-provoking tweet by the visionary entrepreneur, Elon Musk – owner of “X” (formerly known as Twitter), set the stage for public contemplation and attention. That tweet forms the basis of this article which examines the captivating ideas that have sprung from that fateful Friday tweet.
Make sure to read the full article titled Does X Truly Represent Humanity’s Collective Consciousness? by Obinnaya Agbo, Dara Ita, and Temitope Akinsanmi at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4558476
The authors focus the article on a post by Elon Musk that reads: “𝕏 as humanity’s collective consciousness”. They start defining the term humanity’s collective consciousness with a historical review of the works of French sociologist Emile Durkheim and Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Those works responded to industrialization, which influenced contemporary viewpoints and connected collective consciousness to labor. The authors define it as “shared beliefs, values, attitudes, ideas, and knowledge that exist within a particular group or society. It is the sum of an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences of people within a group, which combine to create a common understanding of the world, social norms, and cultural identity. It is also the idea that individuals within a society are not only influenced by their own thoughts and experiences but also by broader cultural and societal trends.” The authors continue to review a possible motive for Elon Musk. They refer to the name change earlier this year from Twitter to “X, the everything app”. Elon Musk defended the decision by providing the scope planned for “X”. He stated Twitter was a means for bidirectional communication in 140 characters or less – and nothing more. “X” on the other hand allows different types of content, at varying levels of length, and it plans to allow users “to conduct your entire financial world” on “X”, implying similar features as WeChat. The authors interpret Elon Musk’s statements as “X” becoming a mirror for the world’s thoughts, believes and values at any given point in time. The authors continue to review comments and reactions from users concluding humanity’s collective consciousness must be free from censorship and oppression. Moreover, it requires digitization of human content, which in and of itself is a challenge considering the influence of artificial intelligence over human beliefs and values. This leads the authors to explore spiritual and religious motives asking “Does Elon Musk intend X to play the role of God”? They then ask the true question “Can X achieve to truly influence cultural norms and traditions” but conclude it to be a mere means to an end of humanity’s collective consciousness.
At first glance, this article is missing a crucial comparison to other platforms. The elephant in the room is, of course, Facebook with more than 3 billion monthly active users. WhatsApp is believed to be used by more than 2.7 billion monthly active users. And Instagram is home to approximately 1.35 billion users. This makes their owner and operator, Meta Platforms, the host for more than 7 billion users (assuming the unlikely scenario that each platform has unique users). “X” by contrast is host to around 500 million monthly active users. Any exploration that concerns a social network or platform could become or aims to be humanity’s collective consciousness must draw a comparison.
The authors do conduct a historical comparison between “X’s” role in shaping social movements, revolutions, and cultural shifts and the Enlightenment Era and the Civil Rights Movement. They correctly identify modern communication as being more fluid and impacted by dynamic technologies allowing users to form collective identities based on shared interests, beliefs, or experiences. Arguably, the Enlightenment era and the Civil Rights Movement were driven by a few, select groups. In contrast, modern movements experience crossover identities supporting movements across the globe and independent of cultural identity as demonstrated in the Arab Spring of 2011, the Gezi Park Protests of 2013, or Black Lives Matter. It can be interpreted that humanity’s collective consciousness is indeed influenced by social networks, but the critical miss, again, is the direct connection to “X”. Twitter did assume an influential role during the aforementioned movements. But would they have played out the way they did – soley on Twitter – without Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social networks?
The authors make a point about “X’s” real-time relevance arguing information spreads on “X” like wildfire often breaking news stories before traditional media outlets. However, the changes to the “X” recommendation algorithm, the introduction of paid premium subscriptions, and some controversial reinstatements of accounts that were found to spread misinformation and hate speech have made “X” bleed critical users, specifically journalists, reporters, and media enthusiasts.
Lastly, the authors conclude that “X” has evolved from a microblogging platform to an everything app. They state it has become a central place for humanity’s collective consciousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. To date, “X” has yet to introduce products and features to manage finances, search the internet, plan and book travel or simply maintain uptime and mitigate bugs. Users can’t buy products on “X” nor manage their health, public service, and utilities. WeChat offers these products and features and it doesn’t make a claim to be humanity’s collective consciousness.
A far more interesting question around social networks and collective consciousness is the impact of generative artificial intelligence on humanity. While the authors of this article believed a (single) social network could become humanity’s collective consciousness, it is more likely that the compounding effect of information created and curated by algorithms is already becoming if not overriding humanity’s collective consciousness. Will it reach a point, at which machine intelligence will become self-aware, independent of its human creators, and actively influence humanity’s collective consciousness to achieve (technological) singularity?