The Dark Forest

Jason Kottke pointed me to an essay on Medium from Yancey Strickler linking the rise of advertising, tracking, and trolling of the mainstream internet to the movement towards online environments more private such as newsletters, podcasts, invite-only message boards, etc.

Strickler uses the dark forest analogy at the center of Liu Cixin’s science fiction trilogy, The Three Body Problem.

When we look out into space, the theory goes, we’re struck by its silence. It seems like we’re the only ones here. After all, if other forms of life existed, wouldn’t they show themselves? Since they haven’t, we assume there’s no one else out there.

Liu invites us to think about this a different way.

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

It’s an incredible read and clearly a movement that’s not going away.

May 23, 2019


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