This is a reflection on Steven Johnson’s, Emergence, The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities & Software, “Street Level”.

While the reading explains the case of Ants, I am only reminded of the Antz movie, and movies like that made it clear on how, small little things work together to achieve mammoth tasks, or ’emerge’ as a single major entity, while it’s not. Speaking of emergence in design and Ants brings me to the example of the Ant Design System. This is very literal and you may see that it’s just the name that matches the emergent behaviour of ants. However, take a look at this design’s systems values – keeping restraint,  being object-oriented and abstract and being modular in approach is this system’s defining and deterministic nature or we can say, its emergent system behavior as a whole.

Continuing with the example of abstraction and encapsulation, it’s very clear that any Object Oriented programming language works in the same way. Modularization, operator overloading, function overloading, functions, and constructors are singular characteristics of an OOP language that deliver its overall emergent behavior. This idea of encapsulation and releasing only selected control to the user ties back to the author’s notion of:

Ignorance is useful.

I want to share my theory of what I call “The Justin Beiber Effect“. When he launched as a teen music sensation, some people said, he’s a girl, sissy, he sings for kids, lousy, was mocked at by media, apart from his other ACTUAL achievements of being one of the youngest to win a Grammy, album of the year, song of the year, one of the most watched YouTube videos ever, and so on. Success statistics aside, anyone who really knows the art and science of singing, will know in their heart, that Justin Beiber is an amazing singer, but his music (then) is catered to a specific section of teenagers, female teens, or even male teens for that matter. Why not? However, the emergent behavior, that I noticed here was, that if you said openly that you like him or his music or how he’s making good work at a young age, they will put you in a basket that you are one that has no good taste in music and follow the ‘wrong’ artists. This fear of being criticised grew gradually, and people who have never even heard a single full song of Beiber, would just hate him, or not subscribe to anything connected to him. This is “The Justin Beiber Effect”.

The persistence of the whole: Over time, the global behavior that outlasts any of its component parts – is one of the defining characteristics of complex systems.

Now, this isn’t a joke. This is nothing but normal human behavior, with a very pop, fun example. This can be more understood if you research on the “India Against Corruption” movement in 2011 or the Arab Spring in Egypt. This also holds true for even how Trump or Modi supporters have no clue WHY they support their leaders, but they support them anyway, at any cost because of an emergent perception build around them by the media they surround themselves with, targeted social media posts, the marketing, and PR of the related political parties they have even the slightest affinity to, and also, they are only shown the emergent abstraction and not the underlying encapsulation. Sadly, this is true for many of my colleagues, peers, those with multiple degrees and even several years of work experience. Essentially, this isn’t about how well a person is educated or not, but a natural human behavior of looking at emergent perceptions.

Inspired from “The Eye of Power” by Michel Foucault, let’s take a planned country like Singapore – while everything is clean, organized and well set, this comes at a price where even though people aren’t subject to unfair laws, the stringent daily behavior, guidelines, queues, ‘established methods’ among others build an imaginary prison of sorts. When humans are exposed and conditioned to work or behave in a certain ‘norm’, it is more likely to develop into a self-unconscious prison. This social-conformity experiment hits me hard as an example right now.

To conclude my argument, this ‘Panopticon’ way of life that has lived through the ages, has evolved as much as it is getting more and more invisible to the eye. Who is spying on us through our laptop cameras, tracking our cell phone movements, credit card swipes, tapping our chats? The ‘eye’ has been and is there, everywhere. But the world is growing blind towards it. It’s eye-ronical.

Generations of ants come and go, and yet the colony itself matures.

To conclude, I would like to throw these questions for the emergent behavior that’s ‘ironically embedded’ within us all:

  • Why do political predictions go completely wrong with so many experts working on them?
  • Failures in Psephology is fine, but why are they sometimes completely the opposite?
  • Does a democracy perfectly figure out what the country actually needs best? Or is it possible that a huge nation of billion people can be STILL brainwashed that their choice is the right way ahead?
  • Why do we need ‘another pair of eyes’ to look at a design or an image or to read a letter that we have been seeing for a longer time?
  • Isn’t Evolution different from Emergence?
  • Is it possible to clearly explain the idea of emergence directly, without any examples?

The idea of emergence is an emergent idea. – Mario Dcunha