This, and the two parts that preceded it, were all originally intended to be one post, and a relatively smallish article at that. The decision to incorporate material from the game rules that I had written relating to the subject put paid to that concept, but I felt it was a necessary preamble.
Finally, though, we have all caught up with each other on the subject, and are ready to forge new paths.
But before we do: something that I meant to offer in one of the earlier parts (and which was mentioned in the text, as I recall) was the Psionics Questionnaire that I came up with for the Champions Campaign.
Getting each player to fill it out “in character” should make the impact of a psionic character immediately obvious, and it should be appropriate to just about every campaign with telepathic characters. So, here it is, in convenient PDF format.
A New Metaphor
Regular readers of these blogs will know that I am a big fan of analogies and metaphors as tools for the examination of a phenomenon or concept from a different direction. Past paradigms that I have employed when thinking about telepathy and other psionic powers have been simplistic, rooted in metaphors of books, speech, and broadcast media like television and radio; they always seemed a trifle Victorian to me. If “television” is replaced with “film”, everything about those analogues derives from the first decade or so of the 20th century! Don’t look now, but it’s 2010 – these ideas are a century old! The problem was that I had nothing better with which to replace those analogies – until now.
What if the internet was a metaphor for Psionics? What might the telepathic equivalent of various ‘net phenomena be, and what could they symbolise? That’s what this article is going to consider. I’ve come up with a list of 21 facets of the internet that just about everyone will recognize, and found that I can relate just about all of them to telepathy and related Psionics – and gained some fresh ideas and insight along the way.
This is the most obvious issue in a world with Psionics. How do you protect your privacy from a telepath? The moment telepathy becomes a proven physical phenomena, that race to develop a cheap and effective countermeasure would be on. Early versions would be “secure rooms” – useless because you can’t help but take your information out of the room with you when you leave, but still useful for shielding people in critical decision-making capacities in a crisis.
In modern times, it has become recognised that if the footsoldiers know the plan and the objective, they are more likely to succeed in their missions because they can make intelligent choices and capitalise on opportunities as they arise. In a world with telepaths, the need for security would demand that everyone outside the shielded command bunker be told only what they absolutely needed to know and no more.
The next stage in the development of psionic defences would be some form of personal shielding; again, large and bulky at first, this would still be of limited utility because it could not be worn 24 hours a day. It might not even be functional unless powered by a rather bulky power pack.
Does anyone remember briefcase-sized mobile phones of the 70’s? Or the phones the size and shape of house bricks in the early 80’s? It wasn’t until the 90’s that they became truly portable, and the mid-to-late 90’s before they became pocket-sized. In the 21st century, mobiles have shrunk to the point where the limiting factor is the need for a human-controllable interface – the keypads can’t get much smaller – and so designers have begun packing more and more features into the devices.
Despite the inconvenience, those early mobile phones were very much a status symbol, and possessing one marked the individual as someone of significant wealth or influence. A similar situation would result with these early semi-portable Psi-shields; possession would mark an individual as having secrets that others with resources might wish to steal.
Eventually, the devices would become small enough and cheap enough to be commonplace.
An entirely different path of development is also possible: if Telepathy is integrated into the law-enforcement profession and telepathic evidence legislated into acceptability by the courts, psi-shields might well be banned (with exceptions for the military and various intelligence agencies). Possession of one would be enough to mark the individual as suspicious, if not criminal in nature.
All this parallels the ongoing debate over privacy when it comes to information on the internet. This is the central legal issue of the early 21st century – who knows what about you and who can get access to it? The default position is ‘anyone’ – only legislation to reinforce the rights to privacy and against self-incrimination will protect ordinary people from the excessive zeal of either cybercops or psionicists.
It is possibly not going too far to suggest that one set of legislation might be used as a template for the other – and, at the same time, that those groups who opposed the earlier legislation would be even more vigorous in their opposition of the second.
2. The Wild Wild West
Every culture that recognises telepathy would have to deal with the regulation of the ability. The ‘net is akin to the US wild west, in which it doesn’t matter what you do so long as you don’t get caught, and everything is legal until it’s not. People have to protect themselves and be self-reliant, as the law can only act after the fact.
What’s more, telepathic abilities, like the internet, crosses boundaries, effectively reducing the law to the lowest common denominator. If something is legal somewhere, you can find it on the net – and it it’s not legal, it’s probably still available, just better hidden.
The same principle would apply to telepaths. If one nation bans certain mental activities – a law that would be difficult if not impossible to enforce – and its neighbour permits it, the people of country A are sure to experience that which is forbidden, even if those who want to commit the illegal act have to move to country B in order to do so. In practice, most wouldn’t bother.
3. The Thought Police
Eventually, just like the West, the telepathic territory would be tamed, or at the very least, the possibility of doing so will become apparent. This would require a new, more active form of policing, the sort of thing that is reserved for hunting down serial killers and mob bosses – telepaths who are trusted to search out other telepaths breaking the law – PsiCops.
Would people really be comfortable with someone else monitoring what people think? And would people ever really be confident that this authority was never abused? I don’t think they would, but I’ve never denied being a moderate liberalist.
Much of the plotline in Babylon 5 revolved around the Psi Corps, doing a fair job of presenting both sides of the arguement even though the proponent of one was (at best) an anti-hero (Alfred Bester, played by Walter Koenig). Who watches the watchers – and who watches them?
4. A more efficient porn delivery system
It often doesn’t seem to matter what you look for on the internet, porn is just a few clicks away. Although it’s not quite literally true, especially these days when some aspects of the ‘net are better regulated, the same would not be true in telepathic circles.
Every salacious thought (no matter how fleeting), every desire, every passing fantasy – all would be on public display for any telepath who wished to look.
- How easily manipulated would people be if their innermost desires could be played apon?
- How easily could someone be blackmailed if their darkest secrets were an open book?
Just as internet porn became a fertile ground for organised crime, so would telepathy.
5. The Value Of Information
In the 21st century, information has been described as the most valuable commodity. (Here’s an interesting article on the subject, which contains an awful lot of what I was going to say).
Information is bought and sold, and is sometimes considered a company’s most valuable asset.
Put that together with a psionic reality in which information is there for the taking.
Fortunes will be won and stolen and lost.
Data And Information
One of the reasons Information will be so highly valued in a telepathic age is the difference between data and information – context and interpretation. The telepath doesn’t have to supply their own, they can get it direct from the source. As a source of personal power, this is poor, as the telepath may not be able to do anything with the information they glean; but as a source of leverage, and intelligence, it is unsurpassed.
I was reminded of the ultimate reference source – Wall Street – for this aspect of Psionics. While the movie is all about greed, and money, it is information that enables everything else to happen.
A close second, and just as entertaining (in a completely different way) is Trading Places. Superficially, this is a comedy about stock market manipulation, but look just a little deeper and this is a movie that revolves around information acquisition, counterfeighting, and manipulation.
Both of these are directly relevant to the potential usage of information by telepaths. And that’s food for thought.
6. Data Piracy
A direct implication of the value of information is that people who aren’t supposed to have it will try to steal it. Most of the information I’ve focussed on so far has taken the form of secrets and decisions, and those are important; but there is a third type of information: proprietary information and trade secrets. And this information is just as valuable as the other types.
Every organisation has its own unique advantages, the things that make them successful against their rivals. It might be a cost-cutting measure, or a training methodology, or a proprietary technology, or any of half-a-dozen other advantages. And all of these are vulnerable to the telepathic thief.
Even the vandalism of using mental control to change the minds of potential customers to persuade a rival that a successful strategy is no longer working, and should be abandoned, can have a major impact. Anyone remember the Cola Wars of the 1970s?
7. Search Engines
Everyone knows something, some people know more than others. And then there are the people who know people, who seem to have the world at their fingertips, and others who know where to find information. Librarians and political numbers men and media executives – these are the telepathic equivalent of a search engine. And if they don’t have the answer, they will know who they would ask – the equivalent of redirecting an enquiry to a specialist web page which has it’s own search engine.
To Be Continued…
It looks like I’m out of time, with many more internet analogies still to draw – so keep your seats, this article is going into a fourth innings!
- The Mind’s Eye: Examining Psionics, Part 1 of 5
- Neurons & Lobes: Examining Psionics, Part 2 of 5
- The Value Of Information: Examining Psionics, Part 3 of 5
- All This And Psionic Spam: Examining Psionics, Part 4 of 5
- The Dark Side Of The Mind: Examining Psionics, Part 5