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Author, The Big Switch, The Shallows

"Ripeness," Shakespeare told us, "is all." On the Internet, ripeness is nothing. Nowness is all, as David Gelernter tells us. Web 2.0, which was supposed to bring us a creative outpouring of "social production," has instead tossed us into the rapids of real-time communication. The Web has become a vast multimedia telephone system, where everyone is on the same party line, exchanging billions of bite-sized updates and alerts. Google, Facebook, Twitter: the Net's commercial giants are locked in a fierce competitive battle to speed up "the stream."

The Net's bias, Gelertner explains, is toward the fresh, the new, the now. Nothing is left to ripen. History gets lost in the shuffle. But, he suggests, we can correct that bias. We can turn the real-time stream into a "lifestream," tended by historians, along which the past will crystallize into rich, digital deposits of knowledge.

It's a pretty vision. I wish I could believe it. There are times when human beings are able to correct the bias of a technology. There are other times when we make the bias of an instrument our own. Everything I've seen in the development of the Net over the past 20 years, and in the development of mass media over the past 50 years, tells me that what we're seeing today is an example of the latter phenomenon. We are choosing nowness over ripeness.

Editor-At-Large, Wired; Author, New Rules for the New Economy

I find Gelernter's scenario very plausible. I was so smitten by the idea of Lifestreams when he first proposed them in the mid 90s that I tried to fit it into the pages of Wired. But despite assigning a reporter on the case, the idea at that time was too embryonic, too unrealized, to survive translation into four color ink on paper. Still I was taken by the notion, and years ago I named my uber blog in honor of it: My Lifestreams.

Gelernter has sharpened, crystalized and matured his scenario in this current version, and he makes a good case for why Lifestreams will be a preferred organizing metaphor for working in the Cloud. In the borderless, edgeless, centerless, placeless mists of the Net, the only dimension that seems to remain true and absolute is time, and so it seems prudent and practical to organize data/things/events/stuff along this constant and coincidentally very personal and experiential dimension. Lifestreams and the Cloud are an ideal match, as profound a pair as the link and the tag, and as inevitable as the bit and wire. But it will take at least a decade before Lifestreams manifests into everyday Cloud technology. Twitter, et al, are just glimpses of what is to come.

Film-Maker; Founder, free-form.tv; Lybba.org

It's a compelling idea, and one that we see ourselves moving toward already. It's unfortunate however that the privacy issue is put off for another discussion. I believe that is such a stumbling block that without resolving issues of access and security we will never see full adoption of lifestreams as an organizing principle of the net.

It is a great leap of faith on the part of the user to give such a thorough account of their personal lives over to "the cloud" because, let's face it, "the cloud" will be always be a shorthand for the servers of Google or some similar commercial or governmental entity. As more and more of our lives are lived online, more care must be taken to ensure the same safeguards we enjoy offline make the jump with us.

Making each individual life the data structure around which we organize the internet invites us to bring along the same old injustices, prejudice, and inequality. Protection from abuse becomes all the more important when all the relevant data your life generates is stored a single user account away.

Say what you will of the web's "razor-sharp fragments" but, as currently conceived, lifestreams will redefine the ease and totality of identity theft, surveillance, and unwanted profiling. Right now, the best safeguard against abuse is the very fractured, highly anonymous state of the web. While in many ways the stream as organizing principle makes my life easier, and as Gelernter says, gives the web a missing sense of temporal breadth and flexibility, let us not pretend that it comes without a price.

Back to "Time To Start Taking The Internet Seriously" by David Gelernter

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