Imagine a man in whom the tumult of the flesh goes silent, in whom the images of earth, of water, of air and of the skies cease to resound. His soul turns quiet and, self-reflecting no longer, it transcends itself. Dreams and visions end. So too does all speech and every gesture, everything in fact which comes to be only to pass away. All these things cry out: 'We did not make ourselves. It is the Eternal One Who made us.' And after they have said this, think of them falling silent, turning to listen to the One Who created them. And imagine Him speaking. Himself, and not through the medium of all those things. Speaking Himself. So that we could hear His word, not in the language of the flesh, not through the speech of an Angel, not by way of a rattling cloud or a mysterious parable. But Himself. The One Whom we love in everything. Imagine we could hear Him without them. Reaching out with speeding thought we come to Him, to the Eternal Wisdom which outlasts everything. And imagine if sight of Him were kept available, while all lesser sights were taken away. Think of this encounter, seizing, absorbing, drawing the witness into the depths of joy. Eternal life would be of a kind with this moment of understanding. - from The Confessions of Saint Augustine, ca. 400 AD
ethnologist Cyrus Thomas (1825-1910) had a particular interest in mound building and discredited the prevailing theory of his time, that mounds were constructed by a race that prececded the Indians. His Catalogue of
Prehistoric Works East of the Rocky Mountains,(1891) is a lengthy list of mounds, earthworks, petroglyphs, kjokkenmodding,
and various aboriginal stone constructions.
studying the Catalogue, I pared down the list, limiting the geographic coverage
to North Georgia, Western North Carolina, Northwestern South Carolina and East
Tennessee. Further, I’ve removed
listings for almost all the mounds within that territory. My specific interest at the moment involves
rock cairns, stone walls and similar stone structures.
post will discuss some of these, particularly the abundance of sites identified
in Habersham County and the rest of North Georgia. But for now, here’s an abridged list from
Cyrus Thomas’ Catalogue:
Fort," or inclosure on the summit of a rocky hill which overlooks the
Etowah River towards Rome, 2 1/2 miles northwest of the great Etowah Mounds.
Figure and description by Charles Whittlesey, Smithsonian Report, 1881, pp. 627,628.
Described also in the Atlanta Constitution, April 13, 1886.
rock graves, 2 1/2 miles west of Cartersville, on land of Miles Dobbins.
Reported by John P. Rogan.
mound encircled by a stone wall, at Adairsville. Reported by James D.
on William Burgess’s farm, 2 miles from Stilesborough, on Raccoon Creek. Copper
specimen and stone image found. Reported
by J. P. Rogan.
mound, near where the railway from Cartersville to Cedarville crosses Petit's
Creek. Briefly described by Charles Whittlesey, Sm. Rep., 1881, p. 628.
Reported by John P. Rogan.
rock graves 6 miles west of Cartersville.
of a rock wall about half way up Stone Mountain. Described by C. C. Jones,
Antiquities of the Southern Indians., pp. 207-208.
cairn on road from Campbellton to Marietta, on ridge between Anawaka and
Sweetwater Creeks. Reported by James Mooney.
fortifications on the western bank of the Chattahoochee River opposite the
village of Campbellton. Mentioned in White's Historical Collections of Georgia, p. 293.
tumuli on the Savannah River visited by William Bartram in 1776, situated on
the west bank of the Savannah, about 4 miles north of the mouth of Broad River.
Bartram's Travels (1791), pp. 324, 325. Description chiefly from Bartram and
figure by C. C. Jones, Sm. Rep., 1877, pp. 283-286. Explored by John P. Rogan.
Described and figured in Report.
concentric stone circles inclosing an area of about 2 acres with walls 2 feet
high on branch of
Silver Creek, about 7 miles south of Borne.
cairn on a hill near the preceding.
cairn with two concentric stone circles, formerly stood on north bank of Etowah
River just below mouth of Dyke's Creek.
inclosure with walls about 3 1/2 feet high, area one-fourth of an acre,
formerly on west side of
Silver Creek, 7 1/2miles south of Rome. Reported by James Mooney.
mining excavations at Whitepath.
earthwork near east bank of Ellijay River on Dillingham farm 2 miles above
cairn on Parks farm on west bank of Ellijay River, 3 miles below Ellijay. Reported by James Mooney.
mound on the form of Robert M. Grimes, near the southeast line of the county;
also an earth mound to the west of the stone mound. Mentioned by Benj. W. Kent.
Sm. Rep., 1882, p. 771.
structure, horseshoe shape, 2 to 4 feet high, at Soquee post-office.
earthwork about 30 feet in diameter, just east of last.
stone cairns along the road, just south of Soquee post-office.
cairn on Tray Mountain.
circle formerly on the hill above Glade Creek, on the road from Clarkesville to
Tallulah Falls, 5 miles from Clarkesville.
cairn on a ridge between Rabun and Habersham Counties, 2 miles west of Tallulah
cairns on Soapstone Mountain, 5 miles southeast of Ayersville.
mound on east side of Soquee River, 1 mile above Deep Creek.
wall nearly obliterated, on the east bank of Soquee River, about 4 miles above
cairn on north side of Toccoa Creek, 4 miles above its month.
on the east bank of Soquee River, one-half mile above Clarkesville on the
cairn on the Ryan farm, 1 mile northeast of Clarkesville.
cairns on the road, 1 mile north of Soquee post-office.
cairn on the west bank of Soquee River, 2 miles below Clarkesville.
circle 85 feet in diameter, with walls originally 4 feet high, on Aleck
Mountain, 7 miles northwest of Clarkesville. Reported by James Mooney.
mound on a ridge 3 miles from Sparta, in a direction opposite to the circular
work mentioned in the next item. Mentioned
by C. C. Jones, Antiq. So. Inds., p. 148.
earthwork on the headwaters of the Great Ogeechee River, 5 miles from Sparta. Brief description by C. C. Jones, Antiq. So.
lnds., p. 148.
stone and earthen circular work, walls formerly 12 feet high and inclosing an
area of 8 or 10 acres, on Fort Mountain.
mound of white quartz rock, inclosed by a stone circle, about 1 1/2 miles from
Lawrence's ferry on the Oconee River.
mounds containing graves, near Eatonton. Bones and a pipe shaped like an
eagle's head, found in them. Described
and figured by C. C. Jones, 8m. Rep., 1877, pp. 278-282. Mentioned also by
Benj. W. Kent, Sm. Rep., 1882, p. 770.
tumuli, near Little River, below Pierson's Mill on the opposite side of the
stream. Mentioned by Benj. W. Kent, 8m.
Rep., 1882, p. 771.
cairns in Rabun Gap.
cairns on the north side of Tuckaleegee Creek, a small branch of War Woman
large, dressed, uncemented stones, at Smith's Gold Mine, on the north side of
Dick's Creek, 1 1/2 miles west of Burton post-office. Discovered by gold washers.
cairn, known as the ''Indian Grave," near Glassy Mountain, on the head of
on the ridge east of Tiger Creek and southeast of Glassy Mountain. Reported by James Mooney.
A talc mine
and stone implements on Piney Mountain. Mentioned in Science, vol. 9 (1887), p.
on large boulders in Track Rock Gap, 4 miles east of Blairsville. Reported by
J. M. Spainhour.
cairns at same gap. Reported by J. M.
cairns on east bank of Nottely River, midway between Arkuqua and Town Creeks.
Largest, originally 15 feet high.
1 mile west of Blairsville in “Wimpey Field."
cairns on ridge, 1 mile west of Tray Mountain.
east side of Sautee Creek, 1 mile above Chickamauga Creek. Reported by James Mooney.
or buried village "on Duke's Creek, 4 miles from Nacoochee Valley. Described in
White's Hist. Coll. Ga., pp.
487, 488; and Jones' Ant. So. Inds., p. 48.
on Mount Yonah." Noticed by Jones,
Ant. So. Inds., p. 208. (** Probably the large stone circle on Aleck Mountain
in Habersham County, a few miles to the east.'' James Mooney.)
remains consisting of inclosures, mounds, and excavations, some miles above
Wrightsborough, on the north side of Little River. Mentioned by Bartram, Travels, pp. 37,38; C.
C. Jones, Antiq. So. Inds., p. 123.
Indian Grave Gap on Green Mountain, 4 1/2 miles due north of Lenoir, in the
trail. No burial.
Brushy Mountain, near a probable Indian trail, 1 1/2 miles north of Cedar
Valley. No burial.
Cairn 6 1/2
miles southwest of Lenoir, between Lenoir and Icard Station (on Richmond and
Danville road, above Hickory). No burial.
Brushy Mountain, about three-fourths of a mile east of the one noted above. No
small cairns on the ridge west of John's River, extending for about a mile
along the ridge, from 5 to 6 miles northwest of Collettsville. Unexplored. Reported by J. M. Spainhour.
A rock shelter 7 miles from Catawba. Reported by J. P. Rogan.
cairns on Whittaker farm, near mound at Valley River bridge.
stone cairns along trail from Tatham Bay south to Valley River, between Valley
Town and Robbinsville.
the ridge north of Shooting Creek, near its head. Cairns on ridge about 1 mile
south of Shooting Creek and 3 miles east of Hiwassee River. Two mounds, one of
stone, adjacent to last. Reported by J.
stone cairns along trail down south side of Chilhowee and Tennessee Rivers,
extending about 6 miles from Santeetleh Creek into Tennessee.
on north bank of Chilhowee River, about 1 mile below Yellow Creek. Reported by James Mooney.
graves 3 miles below Robbinsville on a ridge near Chilhowee River. Reported by J. W. Emmert.
cairns 1 mile east of Waynesville.
cairns (" mounds ") on Rathbone's land, on south side of Hurricane
Creek. Unexplored. Reported by J. W. Emmert.
cairns on east fork of Pigeon River. Location not definitely given. Reported by James Mooney.
cairns (six) on southwest side of Cullasaja Creek nearly opposite mouth of
cairns on Howard farm on west bank of Tennessee River, 2 miles above Tesenta
west bank of Nantahela River, 2 miles below Jarretts.
east bank of Nantahela River opposite mouth of Cowe Creek.
cairns on Cartooyaja Creek near mouth of Wayah Creek, about 7 miles west of
Indian Grave Gap, in Walnut Mountain, at head of Brush and Walnut Creeks, on
south side of road from Marshall to Burnsville. Reported by James Mooney.
on ridge between Indian Creek and Cooper's Creek, about 3 miles northeast of
cairns about 3 miles southeast of Bryson City, on trail crossing ridge between
Tuckasegee River and Alarka Creek.
Boone's Gap on Boone's Fork of Warrior's Creek. Unexplored. Reported by Dr. J. M. Spainhour.
formerly 1 ½ miles north of cemetery mentioned above. Not a burial pile.
J. M. Spainhour.
earthwork about 10 feet high on natural hill at Fort Hill, on east bank of
Keowee River, about 4 miles below Twelve Mile Creek. Reported by James Mooney.
cairns formerly existed on the top of Gilkey’s Knob, near Limestone
Springs. Mentioned by
Logan, Hist. S. C.
(1859), p. 217.
the southeast bank of Ellejoy Creek, just below old Fort McTeer and about 7
miles east of Maryville. Reported by J. W. Enmert.
graves 3 miles from Chilhowee post-office, on the top of Chilhowee Mountain.
J. W. Emmert. Identical with the
"several rock graves or tombs near" two mounds (below) in Chilhowee
Valley, mentioned by Dunnirig, Sm. Rep., 1870, pp. 376-380, and description
partly quoted by Prof. Cyrus Thomas, Burial Mounds of the Northern Section
(1888), pp. 78, 79.
at the lower end of Chilhowee Mountain, about 2 miles northeast of Chilhowee
post-office, and on the west side of the road in Montvale Springs. Reported by J. W. Emmert.
at Indian Grave Gap, near the north bank of Little Tennessee River, on the road
from Chilhowee to North Carolina, above Chilhowee Valley. E. O. Dunning, Sm.
Rep. (1870), pp. 376-380, and quoted in part by Cyrus Thomas, in Burial Mounds
of the Northern Section (1888), pp. 78, 79.
cairns 4 miles southeast of Indian Grave Gap, mentioned above, on the west side
of the same road. Described by Dunning
and quoted by Cyrus Thomas as above.
both sides of the trail from Wear's Cove (on Cove Creek in Sevier County) to
Tuckaleechee Cove (at Bricky Branch in Blonnt County) on the county line and
extending into Sevier County. Reported
by James Mooney.
cairns at Indian Grave Gap, where the road crosses north of Watauga River and
about 1 mile north of Elizabethton.
ten or fifteen in number, like stone chimneys open at the top, washed out about
1882 in bottom on west bank of Tennessee (Holston) River just below the mouth
of the French Broad. Reported by James
the gap on the State line at the Slick Rock trail on the south side of the
Little Tennessee River.
graves (cists) about one hundred in number on Slick Rock Creek on the south
side of Little Tennessee River.
stone graves on the east side of Citico Creek 5 miles from Little Tennessee
River at Good Fields.
graves on a bluff on the north bank of Holston River 4 miles southeast of
graves similar to the above on the north bank of the Holston 2 miles higher up.
Explored and described by J. W. Emmert in Report.
containing stone graves about 2 miles directly nortb of Kingsport and not far
from the North Fork of Holston. Reported
by Cyrus Thomas. Described and illustrated in Burial Mounds of the Northern
Section, pp. 75-77.
the south side of the South Fork of Holston River 1/4 of a mile above Sharp's
Creek, near Minnick's Ford.
graves on a bluff on the north side of the South Port of Holston River at
Minnick's Ford. Reported by J. W. Emmert.
mounds, with cemetery of stone graves and earthworks at Castalian (sulphur)
Springs; on Bledsoe's Lick, and 8 miles northeast of Gallatin and 2 miles from
Cragfont. Described by Haywood, Nat. and
Ab. Hist. Tenn. (1823), 121-1-26; noticed by Jones, Antiq. Tenn., p. 104.
cairns at Indian Grave Gap on the top of the Unaka Mountains on the State line
about 4 miles southeast of Erwin.
the south side of Watauga River, 1 mile above Roan's Creek. Reported by James Mooney.
and earthworks on Caney Fork, about 4 miles southwest of Sparta. Described by Haywood, Nat. and Ab. Hist. Tenn.
(1823), p. 173.
near Sparta. Explored. Described by
Haywood, Nat. and Ab. Hist. Tenn. (1823), pp. 200-209; mentioned by Jones,
Antiq. Tenn., p. 8; brief notice by H. C. Williams, Sm. Rep. (1870), p. 368. He
refers to the Sparta Review (newspaper) as containing a descriptive notice.
Featherstonaugh describes the small stone graves of this locality in Excursion
through Slave States, pp. 48-49.
mound about 10 miles from Sparta. Haywood,
Nat. and Ab. Hist. Tenn., pp. 193-197.
stone coffins on Calf Killer Creek, 4 miles above Sparta. Reported by James D. Middleton. One of them
noted by Haywood Nat. and Ab. Hist. Tenn. (1823), p. 194.
fortification," 5 or 6 miles from Sparta. Described by Haywood, Nat. and
Ab. Hist. Tenn. (1823), p. 209.
phenomenon, “The Hum,”remains a mystery.Generally described as a low-frequency droning or pulsing sound, it is
often compared to the sound of a distant diesel engine.
Visualization of "Hum" frequencies
For the small percentage of people who can
hear the noise at any given location, it can become quite disturbing, sometimes leading to suicide.
possessed marketing savvy, I would embellish this story (and most of the posts
in this blog) with conspiratorial claims, “rock-solid evidence” of alien
visitors, or secret lore channeled through my Cherokee shaman grandfather. But I
prefer being true to the stories, even if most people are drawn to gimmicks.
possible explanations: tinnitus or other disturbances of the auditory system,
the mating call of the midshipman fish, mechanical devices, industrial processes,
meteorological sources, and geological anomalies.
Rumbling Bald Mountain
Back in the
1800s, reports emerged from various spots in the mountains regarding unusual
sounds: drones, bangs, booms and rumbles. Bald
Mountain, in the Hickory Nut Gorge near Chimney Rock, acquired the name
“Rumbling” Bald Mountain after earthquakes in 1874.
rock, which occupies the bottom of the gorge, and forms the principal material
of the escarpment beneath the vertical cliffs, is a soft, friable, horizontal,
thin-bedded gneiss, which easily weathers and crumbles down, and is swept away
by the stream. The jutting, solid masses above being unsupported, break off in
huge sheets and massive blocks, and either slide down the face of the cliff
with a grinding movement or topple over and go thundering down the steep slopes
often for half a mile or more, with much jarring and commotion, frequently
shaking the earth for miles around.
years later, other strange, loud noises were reported in the vicinity of Rabun
Bald, Georgia near the North Carolina border.
Macon County, NC resident Barry C. Hawkins submitted this story for the
Monthly Weather Report on October 8, 1897:
several instances of sounds in nature, for which no reasonable or proved
explanation can be found and, probably, the most remarkable of these is the
phenomenon known as the “barisal guns.” The facts relating to these seem to be
as follows: At a certain point near the seacoast in India, sounds are heard
resembling distant cannon firing. These sounds have been extensively studied,
but no reasonable hypothesis has been advanced which accounts for the “guns.”
[The unexplained explosive sounds were heard on the delta of the Ganges
River.] Mention has
been made in the MONTHLY WEATHER REVIEW of certain sounds heard on Black
Mountain, N. C., in 1876, and obviously caused by the slow falling or sliding
and crushing of rocks.
But I am
going to describe a phenomenon which seems to be very similar to the famed
“barisal guns,” and located right in the United States. No account of these
sounds has ever been published, and no scientist has ever taken the slightest
interest in them, or paid any attention to them, so far as the writer knows.
Georgia, in the extreme north of Rabun County, close to the North Carolina
State line and thirty-fifth parallel of latitude, is Rabun Bald Mountain,
forming one of the highest peaks on the very crest of the Blue Ridge. This
mountain has the same bulky shape and long rambling ridges running for miles in
all directions as are spoken of by Hugh Miller as characterising the gneissic
mountains of Scotland.
On the east
side there is a small cliff over which a small stream falls in wet weather, and
from the ranges to the east the peak appears in form exactly like a brace. The entire mountain is of gneiss. Now, on
this mountain are heard mysterious sounds resembling distant cannon firing, and
these sounds have been heard for many years, probably at least fifty; they have
been heard in all kinds of weather and at various points on the mountain.
observers have noted the sounds, and two reliable gentlemen once spent a night
on the summit. About 10 o'clock p. m., sounds were heard which were supposed to
be cannon firing in Walhalla, S. C., in celebration of the presidential
election, this being in November, 1884; but soon the sounds were found to issue
from the ground and from a ridge to the southwest of the mountain. The
explosive sounds continued till late in the night. At times they seemed to
proceed from the ground immediately under the observers.
days when bears were plentiful the pioneers said the sounds were caused by
these animals rolling small boulders off the mountain sides in search of worms,
snails, etc., but the bears have passed and the sounds still continue. Later
the sounds were ascribed to “harnts” (haunts or ghosts); two men were murdered in
“the sixties" and buried at some unknown point on the “Bald.” Some have
heard these sounds so near them in the woods that the sound was like that of a
falling tree. But ordinarily the sound is like distant firing, as noted above.
They are not heard at all times, people having spent the night on the peak and
heard nothing. The writer can verify all the statements made above. They are
strictly true, and it is with the hope of calling the attention of scientific
men to the subject that I present this brief account of the mystery of a
1870s, sounds wafting around Roan Mountain, on the North Carolina/Tennessee
border, more closely resembled “The Hum.”
Henry Colton had travelled extensively around the Southern Appalachians,
but the “mountain music” he heard on Roan was one of the most inexplicable
phenomena he ever experienced:
In the month
of July, 1878, I spent several weeks at the Cloudland Hotel on Roan Mountain,
in Western North Carolina, which is 6387 feet above the sea-level. On the eastern
side of the Roan Mountain range is a kind of rough table-land about 2000 feet
lower than the summit of that mountain. On the west the mountain descends into
the East Tennessee Valley, which may be said to be about 4000 feet lower than
the same point. The land on the top of the Roan is singularly free from tree
growth, the Canada balsam coming to a certain elevation and there ceasing. The
somewhat level top is covered with a luxuriant growth of grass. I give this
description as preliminary to what I intend to relate. The hotel is on a
plateau near a glen, between two peaks somewhat higher than the general top of
the cattle-tenders on the mountain and also General Wilder had spoken to us
about what they called “mountain music.” One evening they said it was sounding
loud, and Dr. J. T. Boynton, of Knoxville, Hon. M. Thornburgh, and myself,
accompanied General Wilder to the glen to hear it. The sound was very plain to
the ear, and was not at all, as described, like the humming of thousands of
bees, but like the incessant, continuous, and combined snap of two Leyden jars
positively and negatively charged. I tried to account for it on the theory of
bees or flies, but the mountain people said it frequently occurred after the
bees and flies had gone to their winter homes, or before they came out.
always loudest and most prolonged just before there would be a thunder-storm in
either valley, or one passing over the mountain. I used every argument I could
to persuade myself that it was simply the result of some common cause, and to
shake the faith of the country people in its mysterious origin; but I only
convinced myself that it was the result from two currents of air meeting each
other in the suck between the two peaks, where there were no obstruction of
trees, one containing a greater, the other a less amount of electricity, or
that the two currents coming together in the open plateau on the high
elevation, by their friction, and being of different temperatures, generated
electricity. The "mountain music" was simply the snapping caused by
this friction and this generation of electricity. Many have noted the peculiar
snapping hum to be observed in great auroral displays, particularly those of
September 1859 and February 1872.
As the amount
of electricity in the air-currents became equalized or surcharged, they,
descending to either side, caused the thunderstorms usual every day in the
valleys near the mountain, and sometimes immediately on the edge of the timber
surrounding the great bald top. The air-currents of the Western North Carolina
mountains and the East Tennessee Valley form an aerial tide, ebbing and
flowing. The heated air of the valley rises from nine in the morning until
three or four in the afternoon, making a slight easterly wind up and over the
Roan Mountain. As night comes on the current turns back to the valley, almost
invariably producing a very brisk gale by three or four o'clock in the morning,
which, in its turn, dies down to a calm by seven, and commences to reverse by
nine o'clock. This continual change of the currents of air makes it an
impossibility for any great malarial scourge to exist in the East Tennessee
Valley, especially its north-eastern end.
Mountain is one of the curiosities of nature. It is a part of the great range
formed of metamorphic rocks which border on the true silurian formation from
the Canadas to Alabama; though not so high as the Black Mountains, in the same
county, it and many others of the same range present a peculiarity not known to
those higher peaks of the eastern range. This peculiarity is the vast tracts of
land entirely devoid of trees and mostly covered with a luxuriant grass, much
loved by cattle. The highest range of the thermometer, an accurate government
instrument at the hotel, during the past summer, was 74°.
Back around the year 2000, Wendell Berry observed:
It is easy
for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between
people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.
Just a couple of years ago, I composed a bit of doggerel on a similar theme:
I've heard it from the Madman, I've heard it from the Sage: The years in which we're living are the dwindling of an Age. Machines will liberate us from the limits we have known, Polymer and alloy will replace our skin and bone. Our current form of life will gradually dissolve As the species, Homo sapiens, continues to evolve. We are entering an Era called "Posthumanist," Becoming dots on a screen small and luminous. Will we recognize it, the day the threshold's crossed? When what it was we used to be becomes completely lost? We could test the waters cautiously, as human frailties we expunge. More likely we won't know our fate 'til the end of a headlong plunge.
And now, in his new book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, Franklin Foer writes:
recently, it was easy to define our most widely known corporations. Any
third-grader could describe their essence. Exxon sells gas; McDonald’s makes
hamburgers; Walmart is a place to buy stuff. This is no longer so. Today’s
ascendant monopolies aspire to encompass all of existence. Google derives from
googol, a number (1 followed by 100 zeros) that mathematicians use as shorthand
for unimaginably large quantities. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google
with the mission of organizing all knowledge, but that proved too narrow. They
now aim to build driverless cars, manufacture phones and conquer death. Amazon,
which once called itself “the everything store,” now produces television shows,
owns Whole Foods and powers the cloud. The architect of this firm, Jeff Bezos,
even owns [the Washington Post.]
Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, these companies are in a race to become our
“personal assistant.” They want to wake us in the morning, have their
artificial intelligence software guide us through our days and never quite
leave our sides. They aspire to become the repository for precious and private
items, our calendars and contacts, our photos and documents. They intend for us
to turn unthinkingly to them for information and entertainment while they
catalogue our intentions and aversions. Google Glass and the Apple Watch
prefigure the day when these companies implant their artificial intelligence in
our bodies. Brin has mused, “Perhaps in the future, we can attach a little
version of Google that you just plug into your brain.”
any previous coterie of corporations, the tech monopolies aspire to mold
humanity into their desired image of it. They think they have the opportunity to
complete the long merger between man and machine — to redirect the trajectory
of human evolution. How do I know this? In annual addresses and town hall
meetings, the founding fathers of these companies often make big, bold
pronouncements about human nature — a view that they intend for the rest of us
to adhere to. Page thinks the human body amounts to a basic piece of code:
“Your program algorithms aren’t that complicated,” he says. And if humans
function like computers, why not hasten the day we become fully cyborg?
another grand theory, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has exclaimed his desire
to liberate humanity from phoniness, to end the dishonesty of secrets. “The
days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for
the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” he has
said. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of
integrity.” Of course, that’s both an expression of idealism and an elaborate
justification for Facebook’s business model.
oft-used shorthand for the technologist’s view of the world. It is assumed that
libertarianism dominates Silicon Valley, and that isn’t wholly wrong.
High-profile devotees of Ayn Rand can be found there. But if you listen hard to
the titans of tech, it’s clear that their worldview is something much closer to
the opposite of a libertarian’s veneration of the heroic, solitary individual.
The big tech companies think we’re fundamentally social beings, born to
collective existence. They invest their faith in the network, the wisdom of
crowds, collaboration. They harbor a deep desire for the atomistic world to be
made whole. (“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a
global community,” Zuckerberg wrote in one of his many manifestos.) By
stitching the world together, they can cure its ills.
the tech companies gesture toward individuality — to the empowerment of the
“user” — but their worldview rolls over it. Even the ubiquitous invocation of
users is telling: a passive, bureaucratic description of us. The big tech
companies (the Europeans have lumped them together as GAFA: Google, Apple,
Facebook, Amazon) are shredding the principles that protect individuality.
Their devices and sites have collapsed privacy; they disrespect the value of
authorship, with their hostility toward intellectual property. In the realm of
economics, they justify monopoly by suggesting that competition merely
distracts from the important problems like erasing language barriers and
building artificial brains. Companies should “transcend the daily brute
struggle for survival,” as Facebook investor Peter Thiel has put it.
comes to the most central tenet of individualism — free will — the tech
companies have a different way.They hope to automate the choices, both large
and small, we make as we float through the day. It’s their algorithms that
suggest the news we read, the goods we buy, the paths we travel, the friends we
invite into our circles.
not to marvel at these companies and their inventions, which often make life
infinitely easier. But we’ve spent too long marveling. The time has arrived to
consider the consequences of these monopolies, to reassert our role in
determining the human path. Once we cross certain thresholds — once we remake
institutions such as media and publishing, once we abandon privacy — there’s no
turning back, no restoring our lost individuality….
century, we largely have treated Silicon Valley as a force beyond our control.
A broad consensus held that lead-footed government could never keep pace with
the dynamism of technology. By the time government acted against a tech
monopoly, a kid in a garage would have already concocted some innovation to
upend the market. Or, as Google’s Eric Schmidt, put it, “Competition is one
click away.” A nostrum that suggested that the very structure of the Internet
defied our historic concern for monopoly.
individuals, we have similarly accepted the omnipresence of the big tech
companies as a fait accompli. We’ve enjoyed their free products and next-day
delivery with only a nagging sense that we may be surrendering something
important. Such blitheness can no longer be sustained. Privacy won’t survive
the present trajectory of technology — and with the sense of being perpetually
watched, humans will behave more cautiously, less subversively.
Our ideas about
the competitive marketplace are at risk. With a decreasing prospect of toppling
the giants, entrepreneurs won’t bother to risk starting new firms, a primary
source of jobs and innovation. And the proliferation of falsehoods and
conspiracies through social media, the dissipation of our common basis for
fact, is creating conditions ripe for authoritarianism. Over time, the long
merger of man and machine has worked out pretty well for man. But we’re drifting
into a new era, when that merger threatens the individual. We’re drifting
toward monopoly, conformism, their machines. Perhaps it’s time we steer our