This entry is part 4 in the series Examining Psionics

Last time out, I started examining the concept of The Internet as an analogy or metaphor for Psionics, especially telepathy – but ran out of time after looking at only 7 web phenomena of a planned 21. So here we go, with the next seven:

8. The World Wide Web

Everyone knows someone else who knows something useful. This information is the telepathic equivalent of a hyperlink, a connection leading from one mind to another. And, like the internet – especially in the 90s – these links are eclectic and diverse, often having nothing to do with the primary subject of the ‘website’ in question.

Accessing that information is a little trickier for the telepath – it’s one thing to know that “Harry knows rockets”, and quite another to locate the mind of this “Harry”. Even the identity might require additional psionic probing to discern, as people rare think of their friends and acquaintances by their full names without making a deliberate effort to do so.

Browser Redirects

Complicating the picture are the equivalent of browser redirects, where the link appears to point to one thing but actually connects to something else entirely: “Werner Von Braun knows rockets” but the individual in question doesn’t know Von Braun personally, just of him. Instead, the link probably leads to a high school science teacher, or something like that.

Dead Links

And finally, even if the link is “Harry knows rockets”, that doesn’t help very much if Harry’s dead (though in that case, the thought would probably be in the past tense) or if Harry’s information is out of date. Maybe Harry did know rockets – fourteen years ago, or fourty.

Nevertheless, a lot of time could be spent “Mind Browsing” for no particularly good reason.

9. Misinformation

Of course, you can’t always trust the information that you find on the internet (we’ll try to always be honest with you here at Campaign Mastery, I promise!).

Whether for reasons of mischief, malice, propaganda, zealotry, ignorance, or error, a substantial component of the information that is presented as fact on the internet is simply wrong or is opinion disguised as fact.

Most of these will also hold true for telepathic communications. If the subject believes something, no matter how erroneously, their belief will be picked up as fact by the telepath who probes their mind. Campaigns of misinformation and propaganda will still be effective, even in a psionic world – unless the telepath just happens to probe one of the few minds “in the know”.

Self-deception, external deception, brainwashing, paranoia, zealotry, ignorance, and error will all result in incorrect information being fed to the telepath. That’s almost identical to the earlier list.

Telepathy will be no more reliable than internet as a source of information – if you stick to the “reputable sites”, you will get reputable (but possibly biased) information; if you wander the backwaters, you will be inundated with disreputable information which might just contain a nugget or two of truth here and there.

As always, the real trick will be separating the wheat from the chaff. The telepath should not get a free ride – even if they can somehow sense the “truth” in the mind of the person being scanned.

10. Spoofs

Some people – usually very creative people – have created some amazing fake videos for the internet. To everyone else, these are the same thing as propaganda – with or without an underlying message. Some will believe what they have seen, some will be sure that the videos have been faked, and some will just be uncertain. Check out five tell-tale signs of a fake viral video for some examples and some tips on spotting the fakes.

The telepathic equivalent adds mental disturbances and mind-altering substances to the list of reasons why a “fact” received telepathically might be faked.

What if the altered state of mind that comes with being high on cocaine, or LSD, or any of the other illegal drugs, or any invented for the campaign, was picked up telepathically? Could you get lost in that alternative mental space and not be able to find your way back out until the subject came down? Could you have your own mental processes so affected (without losing yourself completely) that you were effectively out of your head for a period of time afterwards – or immediately went into withdrawal symptoms?

Telepathy could be very dangerous – to the possessor and those around them, not just to the world at large.

11. Spam

I have always had the notion that thoughts come in different strengths – that something a person was concentrating hard on would be more easily read than something they were focussing no attention on, and that was in the background. The problem with that theory is that you then need some sort of ranking system.

I’ve never constructed one, and there is no clear reference to this concept that I can recall putting into the game architecture that was the subject of the previous posts – though there are some implications here and there that might suggest it. Nevertheless, the analogy of someone shouting with excitement producing a message that is more clearly received by telepathy is one that I expect to continue to use, because it makes the whole process seem a little more tangible during play.

Another phenomenon that has also never been explicitly described within the rules is the presence of – as they put it in Babylon-5 – a kind of “background hum” that you can never really shut out unless you enter a shielded space.

I would liken Spam to the occasional excited mental shout that rises above this mental noise to be heard in isolation. Someone is excited about buying a new car? You get an unsolicited mental image of that new car, and the notion of buying it, that is full of pleasure and excitement. Someone is looking through a list of restaurants, picking those they might like and those quisines they absolutely hate? You get a series of “Spam” telepathic shouts reviewing those restaurants and/or that style of cooking. Someone is wandering around a shopping mall, window shopping? Or thinking about how much they are looking forward to intimacy now that they have medical reinforcement (trying hard to avoid internet spam filters myself, here!)? Or enjoying a beer in the pub? Or craving a hit of chocolate? Or (shudder) a kid in a candy store – or Imelda Marcos in a shoe shop!?

Ian (the player bringing the telepath into the campaign) won’t know what’s hit him… (unless, of course, he reads this article!)

12. Instant News

Another internet phenomenon with an obvious analogue in the psionic sphere is the arrival of instant news. In modern times, immediately something happens, the news starts hitting the web. To find out what’s happening, all you need to do is go to a suitable website, and you will be as well-informed as a newspaper editor would have been in preceding decades.

Ironically, the psionic equivalent is to scan the recent memories of a news editor or television equivalent. These positions require the editor to be continually aware of the latest news and assess which stories should have prominence. Every time a new event or announcement comes over the wire, he has to compare its importance with the items already present – and the result to a telepath would be like an announcer reading the news headlines of the day.

13. Viral Marketing

Viral Marketing is the process of using ‘word of mouth’ to spread the word of some cool new discovery; marketers are now creating cheap version of proposed real ads and placing them on YouTube to gauge reactions and decide which of the ideas should be up-scaled for “the real world”.

It started off when one person would spot something cool on the net and send links to it to their friends; if enough of those friends did likewise, it could galvanise a massive wave of the online community coming to check out the something cool.

As technology made it easier to share the latest ‘cool discovery’, the concept evolved into the marketing tool that it is today. In fact, the term internet phenomenon, which inspired this entire article, was originally coined to describe the subject matter of successful viral marketing.

So what is the psionic equivalent of Viral Marketing? The best answer I can offer is – drum roll, please: – viral marketing.

But rather than the shotgun approach of existing services, and rather than using the internet as a form of cheap market research, Psionics permits targeting and stepwise refinement. Instead of placing the consumer in command of the process, the telepath can ‘play’ the advert in people’s heads as though it were something that they were imagining, can manipulate it and tweak it to resonate with the mindset and personality of the target, and can (effectively) Convert the consumer to whatever message the “advert” is supposed to be selling. Because people think of this “telepathic marketing” as their own idea, they will be committed to it in a way that is rarely achieved using traditional marketing.

The use of a religious term to describe the effect is a deliberate one. This seems to be the ultimate celebrity endorsement – you, yourself – and it’s totally free. ‘Influence’ a dozen or so of the most influential people on the planet and convert them to your cause and they become zealots in pursuit of the agenda you have implanted. The capacity to shape society to your specifications using Psionics is clearly tremendous.

In any world where telepathy is a proven phenomenon, it would undoubtedly be used as a marketing tool by someone.

Only a telepath would be aware of what was really going on – and so the scene is set for the brainwashing of the masses, while only a few isolated individuals have the capacity to even be aware of the manipulation, let alone fight it. This is the ultimate big brother… and something that I will have to use for a scenario!

14. File Sharing

This is a phenomenon for which there is no initially obvious outright psionic equivalent that I can think of. And yet, there are parts of the file sharing phenomenon that translate directly into the psionic sphere.

Copyright becomes meaningless when all you have to do is locate the mind of a legitimate consumer of whatever you are looking for and enjoy it along with them. Pirating the latest release for your own enjoyment becomes trivial when you can ‘ride along’ with the producer or director seeing a finished product for the first time.

It was only when I started contemplating the technology that is used in file sharing, and in particular Bittorrent, where you download parts of a file from everyone else who has that file on their system, that I started to see an analogous capability within Psionics.

Instead of keeping your information all locked away in your own head, why not use other people as offsite storage – without their permission? By including directions on where to find the next piece, and the preceding piece, of the overall package of information, you end up with telepathy being used as a ‘file sharing’ product – any telepath can get whatever you have ‘uploaded’, they just need to come across one piece of it.

Naturally, there are some disturbing civil rights issues raised by this concept. It inherently elevates the telepath to a position of social superiority over the rest of the species. The mindset needed to use people as a personal convenience without their permission would show in other antisocial tendencies; the individual capable of such acts would be convinced that the psionic were a higher form of life, with a manifest destiny to rule the lesser – a Magneto/Doctor Doom level of arrogance.

This is another idea that I’ll have to use as a plotline in the new campaign!

To Be Continued…

Almost there – only seven more to go….

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