The great thing about the Internet is it gives you an opportunity to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. You can easily voyeurise groups that you’ll never be a part of and whose activities you have no business participating in. For instance, The Edge website (http://edge.org) has this for a mission: “To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”
I think it’s safe to say I do not belong in the room with the sophisticated minds of the Edge people. However, I did find myself very interested in their webpage on our “Algorithmic Culture.” That title doesn’t tell you much, but the subtitle says: “It’s time to think about the Internet instead of just letting it happen.” Infinitely more interesting, you must agree.
The first thing that comes to my mind, though, is what’s wrong with just letting the Internet happen? I thought that was what was great about it: it’s totally anarchic.
I should know better. Human beings, above all else, like order. It’s been what? 15 years since the Internet went critical. ‘Bout time to tame ‘er down, I guess. This is why I know I don’t belong in the Edge people room where they are intensely interested in Internet Strategy and how best to use that strategy to make the Internet more ordered (i.e. commercial).
The page has all kinds of advice on how better to structure the Internet, use it, understand it, and most importantly, take it seriously. Regardless of how I feel about the usefulness of a structured Internet, I do find many of the ideas on the page interesting.
#12 says in spite of the fact that more and more people are getting their Internet experience via cell phones, the trend is going towards larger screens. Eventually people will comfortably sit seven feet from a humongous screen to do their work with ease. Not sure where the Edge people live and work, but in New York City sitting seven feet from their monitor would put the typical worker in the next cubicle. I think we can guess where the Edge members are at in terms of the corporate food chain. Bet they have windows in their offices too.
I like #11: The Internet will never create a new economy based on voluntary instead of paid work. It already has done that to a certain extent, but I doubt very much it’s sustainable. When all the jerks like me understand that writing blog posts takes time away from doing something that might actually bring in money, we’ll stop doing it.
#20 makes me sad: Watching tv while your lifestream flows down the side of the screen evokes a depressing image of how much life is being pissed away while we sit watching the tube.
The most interesting point is #28: The Internet culture is a culture of nowness. #27 asserted that children know “now” and that parents don’t. There’s nothing new there: children have always known about “now.” Then they grow up and forget about it.
I’m not sure getting the Internet is as generational as what everyone thinks it is. Yes, kids are introduced to gadgets at an earlier age than ever before. Yes, today’s kids took to computers, instant messaging, social media, faster than their parents did. But their parents did take to it eventually and so it’s not quite the same as hundred years ago when the children learned to read while Mom and Pop remained illiterate.
To understand and to want to understand where the Internet is going, and to be on board with developments and change and how best to utilize the change, and, further, to really be embroiled in all that culture, takes a certain kind of person. An Edge person, to start with, but there are others I’m sure.
Really there are only two kinds of human beings. The first is a multitasker. This person always does more than one thing at a time. They get a lot done, but details often get smudged. If something requires a lot of thought or time, it usually gets delegated to someone else: an underling or a contractor. They know a lot of people and have a lot of responsibility.
The second type of person is a philosopher. They do one thing and only one thing at a time and it takes them a long time to do it. They turn a thing over in their mind until they understand it, or they work it with their hands until it’s perfect. Deep thought, deep attention, deep time are the tools of this person. They do not have a lot of connections. An umbilical cord to someone of the first type might be about it.
Those are the two types of people that exist. All other subtypes out there fall within these two uber groups. And the proportions are the same. There’s no subgroup that exists in greater amounts in the multitaskers than in the philosophers and vice versa. The same number of intelligent, stupid, educated, or ignorant folks are multitaskers as are deep philosophers.
Which of those two types takes most readily to the opportunities of the Internet? Right. Both. But the two view the Internet completely differently. The first type sees it as a tool for information gathering if it will help in networking. This person gathers lots of superficial information: just enough detail to participate in glib cocktail conversation.
On the other hand, the second type sees the www as a tool for finding information that will find information. This person spends their time at the computer collecting phone numbers or addresses; then they call someone, get in their car to go find something, buy a book on a subject, or use some other method to get to the bottom. They don’t use Internet investigation to form an opinion. It’s just a starting point.
So which group of people will inherit the Internet? Or perhaps have the most influence on it? Which group will decide what the purpose of the Internet is? Or how it is to be shaped?
Considering everything runs on money these days, you have to frame your answer in terms of which group will move the cash. Is the content on the Internet going to be quick and dirty, or big and thought-provoking?
Try and answer. I’ll bet you come back to the conclusion I had at first: what’s the point? The Internet belongs to no one and both types of people will drive its evolution. It’s anarchy and any effort to contain it will result in a lesser Internet for everyone.
But if I know people–and I know people–they will not stop trying to tame the Internet until they’ve done it. Just like we tamed ourselves all those years ago when we came down from the trees to invent Civilization 1.0. Enjoy the anarchy while it lasts. Cling to these wild, surfer days like the bush baby you are. Soon the Internet will be under control, predictable, and stale.