Author : Phil Berry
Fen Larsen entered the office of the Colonial Governor. He was too nervous to take a chair.
“A disaster, Larsen! The first outright social implosion to occur in the colonies for three hundred years. I want an explanation.”
“I can explain.”
“You assigned me a barren planet, Bailyn, four light years beyond our current inhabited zone. The bio-sculpting division vivified the oceans and fertilized the largest continent – this took three standard years. A central conurbation was designed and constructed, Karna. During this development period I searched for a population. I chose a distant, relatively overpopulated planet in the spiral arm, 27000 light years from the galactic centre. Previously, as you know, our practise was to identify the healthiest genetic material across a chosen donor planet, using traditional demographic tools together with invasive genome scanning technology.”
“You’re drifting into jargon…“
“But, as you know Sir, the colonies populated through these selection methods have not thrived.”
“Why didn’t they thrive, the old ones, in your opinion?” asked the Governor.
“After taking into account the emotionally destructive effect of mass, involuntary transportation, well… a failure of connection, a social failure, not a physical one. So I found a new way.”
“This… Social Integer?”
“Precisely. The donor planet I had in mind for Bailyn was notable for the rapid development of a new pattern of communication. Simple radio transmission, but channelled through compact units, handheld mostly. The inhabitants of the donor world recorded their impressions, their thoughts, reactions, every whim… they took pictures of their environment, their children, their parents, even their food, and sent the data all around the globe. We collected those data packets and applied statistical modelling. Some of the software developed on the planet did the work for us. Attached to the message data were various counts, the number of iterations, the number of interconnected individuals – friends, followers, contacts… the degree of interconnectedness.”
“They all did this? Was it mandatory?”
“No, but a large proportion. During the first seasonal cycle we recorded 1.4 billion users, almost a quarter of the whole population. Within that self-selected fraction I set a threshold – based on the Social Integer – contacts multiplied by total messages – to identify the most active cohort.”
“So what happened when they arrived?”
“The usual chaos. Early bonding, shelter seeking behaviour, group formation.”
“A misinterpretation. I equated activity on the social networks with the potential to build communities and innovate, the characteristics so lacking in our previous colonial experiments. I was wrong. They floundered, way beyond the usual settling-in period.”
“So what went wrong?”
“It was the substrate. The population. They couldn’t cross-germinate their ideas. The SI threshold had unwittingly resulted in a much younger cohort. Average age 25 – local years – compared to 39 in previous colonies. They didn’t synthesise information, didn’t reflect on it… no persistence. My conclusion – they were consumers of ideas rather than producers of ideas. It was all surface. Then the first famine swept the Eastern seaboard…”
“I know. We’ve spent 25% of our colonial budget on rescue flights and food drops!”
The Governor took something from a folder. A black rectangle, it’s surface as smooth and reflective as the table itself.
“This is a perfect recreation of one of the handheld units they carry on the donor planet. You will take it with you to the donor planet… and connect. You will attract followers and friends. You will learn the social value of this behaviour, tailor it to our needs, and bring it back to Bailyn. We will be monitoring your ‘account’ – as they say. Best of luck.”