IMHO - the internet is at its coolest when it lets you visit easily with neat people from all over the country, and across the world. It can also be at its worst then. The value of the internet 'hive mind' is inevitably tied to the value of collective humanity everywhere - which can mean 'the mob mind' instead of the 'think tank' effect.
What's more - we all tend to look for the things that interest us and people who will appreciate us to share it with, rather than spending a lot of time seeing what 'the other side' thinks. As long as humans can collect with like-minded folks from elsewhere the internet has personal value, but its ability to 'shape mankind' is then limited to what appeals to that same mankind. You will not make opera lovers out of rock & rollers - Rather, both will find forums that reinforce their own view of the music world. Each group becomes its own village, and like the villagers of old, they reinforce their collective values on one another. If anything, this ability to seek 'your kind' has proved narrowing to some souls who came seeking only to affirm their own values at the expense of respecting that of others - reinforcing their innate tendency toward bigotry. Only those who come with an open-mind can expect to have it broadened further by the people and information available on the 'net.
This is because many people are followers, and most of us are 'herd-minded,' following the authorities/influences we find in our 'home' forums on the net. This natural effect has been made even stronger by the extreme value our culture has put on 'experts' and 'professionally-run' institutions. People in most 1st world countries have been trained to honor doctors, schoolmasters, and 'stars' from their earliest days. (Patrick Henry would be appalled, but then a lot of things in our modern world would appall that free-thinking firebrand.) Some leaders are elected in freely made forums, but most come to power by gaining 'popularity' (which may be honestly merited or gained by manipulation). Other forums are managed by the 'noble & patronage' model - as the sponsor &/or chosen community moderator for a company or group becomes the one the 'vassals' seek to please for goodies & recognition).
This is all part of the 'hive mind' experience - dedicated miniature mobs led by bad people as well as good - and either possibly manipulated by powerful monied &/or political groups. Yes, the free(r) interaction between the best minds in the world has the potential to be of incalculable benefit to mankind, but it would be foolish to forget this 'other' aspect.
I think we don't need to redefine ethics, rhetoric, authorship etc as much as we need to make sure we apply it in our own circles, and hope whatever good influence we can exert will be expanded upon by others - otherwise we will find that virtual mobs, like personal ones, will tend toward the lowest common denominators led by the loudest voices (as opposed to the wisest or kindest)...which in turn brings to mind innumerable Terry Pratchett comments about mobs - so, of course the book I was looking to quote from has gone missing this afternoon. I did find this one online, however:
"The kicking and punching stopped only when it became apparent that all the mob was attacking was itself. And, since the IQ of a mob is the IQ of its most stupid member divided by the number of mobsters, it was never very clear to anyone what had happened." Terry Pratchett MaskeradeRight-
IMHO the internet is less a shaper of mankind than a reflection of its perpetual political tendencies...a swiftly changing reflection, but a virtual echo nonetheless.
[OT:: My thanks to the guys who have begun compiling many of Pratchett's best quotes. One day I am sure Terry will be listed right next to Samuel Johnson & Oscar Wilde. Meantime, I am very glad these fans are filling in the gap!]
ed:: Meant to mention that Terry Pratchett has done plenty of thinking about hive minds versus mob minds in his books. He makes a number of interesting observations about it - also using natural imagery - especially in Lords & Ladies where Terry shows the 'queen bee' as an effective force for good when 'led' by Granny Weatherwax.]