TABLE OF CONTENTS
McLuhan had pointed out that by inventing electric technology, we had externalized our central nervous systems; that is, our minds. Cage went further to say that we now had to presume that "there's only one mind, the one we all share." Cage pointed out that we had to go beyond private and personal mind-sets and understand how radically things had changed. Mind had become socialized. "We can't change our minds without changing the world," he said. Mind as a man-made extension became our environment, which he characterized as "the collective consciousness," which we could tap into by creating "a global utilities network."
Content in the Digital Age
Value is in activity. Content is no longer a noun. Content is context. Content is activity. Content is relationship, community. Content is not text or pictures as distinct from the interactive components that provide access to them. Content is the interactive quality. Content is a verb, a continuing process. Value on the Internet will be created through services, the selection of programming, the presence of other people, and assurance of authenticity reliable information about sources of bits. In short, intellectual processes and services will appreciate; intellectual assets will depreciate. Content is information, and information is not a thing. Value is in activity.
Editors are the original intelligent agents. We try to figure out what our customers do, and we succeed to the degree that we're able to give them what they want, compel them, give them an identity, and make them feel that they're part of a community.
John Perry Barlow
Information is like a life jerky: dried up and not terribly communicative. Through information you come back to the vast set of phenomena that is creating the data in the first place. Experience and the universe itself are intimately bound up with one another. The purpose of the Internet and all its surrounding phenomena is to create a context where experience is universal, and the informational reduction is no longer necessary.
The peculiarity of the new devices on the Internet is that you've got a double acceleration or a double instability. First there's Moore's Law, the fact that the number of processors on a chip, and thus computer power, keeps doubling every eighteen months, decade after decade. Then there's Metcalfe's Law: the value of a net goes up as the square of the number of people on that net. That is to say the Net itself or any net even one made up of faxes or cellular telephones increases dramatically in value the more people are on it. You've got a double-runaway phenomenon. Throw into that the tools that suddenly turn up, like the World Wide Web, Mosaic, and later Netscape Navigator, which also can become dramatically empowering in short order. The Net is a major social event. Culture's got to change.
There's a fundamental shift taking place, because information is no longer an object that has to be transported. In the digital world, information that traditionally took the form of newspapers, magazines, or books can instantaneously be transported anywhere. The implication is vast. It requires a different value system. How heavy a newspaper is and how much it costs to get it to somebody no longer determines the cover price. Suddenly that cost is zero.
You have to think of the convergence companies in terms of their multiplicity of functions. For film and television, the locus of control historically has been distribution. They have direct access to theaters in a way that independent producers can't match or onto the airwaves in a way not available to others.That distribution function has been the source of most of the profit in film and television over the years.Most film and television companies have been spinning off productive capability to small independent studios so they can fob off a lot of the risk and then pick and choose the more successful projects.Distribution is a whole new game on the Internet, and it's not clear how controllable it is.If the Net stays as anarchistic as it is now in terms of access, then distribution may not be a good way to control it. A better route may be controlling productive capability. In this case, the people who are going to succeed are the ones who get very good at investing in new products and new ideas, and at being right in a commercial sense.
I refuse to use the word content," says Denise. "It's insulting. Artists create art; writers write ideas. The word will continue to be used, though, because media has become such a huge commercial enterprise. Everything is becoming a commodity including art, including ideas.
There's too much focus on technology in the industry, an obsession with bandwidth and the latest browsers. What's much more important is creating a magical interactive experience, for which the technology is certainly an enabler. Human creativity is really going to drive us.
John C. Dvorak
The revolution is in the increased communication capability. This is a continuation of what started well before the Industrial Revolution. Genghis Khan was one of the first to grasp the concept of the necessity of quick transmittal of information. He had horses positioned every twenty miles, and when guys wore out a horse, they jumped on the next one and the next one. They made two hundred miles a day, which was a big deal back in the year 1200. Now we can do everything instantly, worldwide. It's frightening.
A new kind of community, not a culture, is coming. The difference between a culture and a community is that a culture is one-way you can absorb it by reading it, by watching it but you have to invest back in a community. Absent this return investment, it's not really a community. People will be investing in sharing content and sending messages to each other, in spending time together, and, in part, that's what builds these communities.
The Software Developer
Essentially, Netscape wants to take a browser and turn it into an operating system. We want to take an operating system and have enough Internet capability built in so that people continue to view Windows as the best way to use the Internet. That is what our customers expect us to do. Unless we're doing a better operating system and keeping the prices low, somebody else is going to come in. Nobody has a guaranteed situation as you look ahead a couple of years. Companies are moving as fast as they can, and the marketplace is the judge of who gets these things right. This competition is great for the end-user, because all the companies involved have very low prices and there is a lot of free software being made available.
A community is not a community of disembodied spoken statements, in part because the most important aspect of the communication that people have is emotional, and one often communicates emotion not in terms of the text but as a subtext. The physical body is not irrelevant to a human community. The emotional subtext of human communication is crucial to human thought. It isn't a footnote. Too many computer scientists don't understand this.
One of the difficulties we face now, and the cause of a backlash of fear of the medium, is the problem of pluralism. Most of us don't have to deal with the full range of opinions and ideas from the inspiring to the obnoxious that exist in the American landscape because the mainstream mass media filter them out. When you spend time on the Net, you discover that people are hungry to read and talk and that the political landscape is a lot richer than you ever thought it was. People hold beliefs that are orthogonal to the usual Democrat versus Republican scale.
W. Daniel Hillis
People are so tuned in to the near term that they aren't thinking in terms of decades. Yet, over the long run, we have a chance of fundamentally changing humanity. Many people sense this, but don't want to think about it because the change is too profound. Today, on the Internet the main event is the Web. A lot of people think that the Web is the Internet, and they're missing something. The Internet is a brand-new fertile ground where things can grow, and the Web is the first thing that grew there. But the stuff growing there is in a very primitive form. The Web is the old media incorporated into the new medium. It both adds something to the Internet and takes something away.
David R. Johnson
What's happening on the Net is that the combined decisions made by a systems operator setting rules and the users who vote with their modems, by deciding which areas to frequent and how often, are creating competing environments where different rules and different laws obtain. It's the first time that I know of in the history of the world in which we've had Darwinian selection pressure on the law.
A model that took some of the revenue from subscription payments and had a royalty structure paying money back to the content creators who made the Internet interesting would make for a more robust Internet. It would also enable providers with only a small niche to have an easy mechanism to make a little bit of money. We're getting there so far on the advertising model. We have to get the subscription model going.
What we are talking about now is a communications revolution. That is exciting, because communication is the basis of culture. Culture is a process of communication among individuals and groups. We are amplifying and enhancing the foundations of culture and society with this communications revolution. All the dynamic and revolutionary effects we are going to see will come from these tiny chips being used in a communications mode.
One of the processes that concerns me is what I call the "Karma Vertigo Effect." We have an extraordinary amount of what you could call karma in this generation, because this generation is creating the computer network and the infrastructure of computer software that will be running for a thousand years. I call it the Karma Vertigo Effect because when you realize how much karma we have in this generation, you get vertigo!
In terms of marketing, would you rather be loved or needed? That's a question I ask all the time. Utilities are needed but they're not loved. So are cable companies and phone companies. If you're a brand that's loved, you don't even have to know who your customers are. Coke doesn't know who its customers are, but it has the most important shelf space a position in a consumer's mind. We want to be a brand that's loved, and that's where word of mouth becomes very positive. We can send out a billion disks, but if members don't love us and tell their friends and relatives about us, we won't win.
A small anarchic community of wireheads and hackers made the mistake of giving fire to the masses. Nobody is going to give it back. It is paradise lost. This wonderful community is not a community anymore. It's a society. It is a city on the Net, and in the back alleys of this electronic city, people are getting rolled. It is no different than being in New York. Let me be a couch potato if this is what Internet activity is about.
At a technical level, VRML is a file format. At a higher level, it is a way of doing 3-D graphics over networks. 3-D graphics are coming to a Web where people have become comfortable with a page-centric view. But VRML will take the page-centric view and pop it into another dimension, with the potential to make the experience more like the physical world. This fundamental shift brings a sense of place to something that has absolutely evaporated the notion of space. While evaporation of space is a powerful concept, much of the information suddenly loses context. Introducing the notion of space to the Net via VRML has the potential to make it more compelling and appealing to a larger audience.
At Sun we believe in the network-computing model. We're not wired up and married to the host-based centralized computing model, and we're not all tangled up in the desktop hairball that is the desktop computing model of the Intel-Microsoft world. Everything from the first computer we shipped a long time ago goes out with a network interface, and every desktop, server, application, software product, and service product that we've ever offered has been network-centric.
It's trite to say that Wired is talking about the convergence of media, computers, and communications. What we are really talking about is a fundamental shift in society that is being led by technology but is infiltrating every aspect of society. Technology, invented in labs, gets absorbed by business, and as business takes it on, it starts to spread throughout society. Often, at that point, artists are attracted to it and pioneer it, champion it, stretch it, push the boundaries of it, and use it to bring a different message to the public. It's a three-pronged approach that has a multilayered response from the society it's impacting. Wired is really about this change. It's led by technology, absorbed by business, and spread by artists. But it's not about technology.
A lot of corporate guys are saying that the Web is going to implode and that 40 percent of the companies on the Web today will be gone in six months. I think they are wrong. Interactive TV is what has imploded. We may very well see a merging of the ideas of interactive TV and the Web as we get broadband TCP/IP broadcasts via TV cables. We'll see a natural merging of the technology, but it'll be far better and far more powerful than people were thinking interactive TV would be in 1993. You're really going to have the opportunity to interact with it.
I resent the shallowness of the critics who say that if you sit in front of a computer and participate in online conversations worldwide you are not leading an authentic life. I question the premise that one person can judge the authenticity of another person's life. Millions of people passively watch television all day long. Don't tell me that having an email relationship with someone on the other side of the world is less authentic than sitting alone and watching the tube. For many people, this new medium is a way of breaking out of the virtual world they already live in.
The online services would like to believe they are content providers. Wrong. They have hosted content providers (and alienated a lot of them by not appreciating their contribution to increasing the service's user base), but they themselves are not content providers. It's like theater owners thinking they are operating studios. Media is not so easy.
For most of this century we have viewed communications as a conduit, a pipe between physical locations on the planet. What's happened now is that the conduit has become so big and interesting that communication has become more than a conduit, it has become a destination in its own right what in the vernacular is called cyberspace.
The subtext of what's happening is that we are changing the way that humans communicate with each other. This transition is going to take much longer than people talk about, and it may be a hundred years, two hundred years, before it settles out. This profound shift is more significant than the invention of the printing press, and the deep implications of it won't be known for some time. A thousand years from now, humanity will look back at the late part of the twentieth century as the time when something big started.
When I'm online, I'm alone in a room, tapping on a keyboard, staring at a cathode-ray tube. I'm ignoring anyone else in the room. The nature of being online is that I can't be with someone else. Rather than bringing me closer to others, the time that I spend online isolates me from the most important people in my life, my family, my friends, my neighborhood, my community.
In real space, each place we go has a different sense of place. Places offer mood, personality, and context. When we choose where we want to take a walk or have dinner, carry on a conversation or shop, we do so based on how a place dovetails with how we're feeling, who we will be with or what we hope to accomplish. Likewise, how we dress and how we generally present ourselves impacts the impression we make on others. In part, our lives are a process of developing, tuning, and refining who we are...both to ourselves and to others. At the moment, our cyberspace identity is our email signature.
When you talk about executable content, you face the following problem: how does the provider know what system the content is going to be viewed on? Today, software is system-dependent. Java is designed to be architecture-independent and run on almost all platforms. Application writers who write to the Java platform don't have to worry about the fact that the user is on a Windows system, a Unix system, or a VCR. Instead, from the developer's point of view, Java allows one to write to a single standard software platform, the Java Virtual Machine.
Many of these same ideas no longer seem abstract or esoteric when you immerse yourself in life on the Internet. For example, the idea that you are constituted by and through language is not an abstract idea if you're confronted with the necessity of creating a character in a MUD. You just have to do it. Your words are your deeds, your words are your body. And you feel these word-deeds and this word-body quite viscerally. Similarly, the idea of multiplicity as a way of thinking about identity is concretized when someone gets an Internet account, is asked to name five "handles" or nicknames for his activities on the system, and finds himself "being" Armani-boy in some online discussions, but Motorcycle-man, Too-serious, Aquinas, and Lipstick in others.
What's nice about DaveNet is that I don't need any money to do what I do. I don't require an editorial staff, and I don't need a printing press. Therefore I don't have anybody telling me what I can write. I also have a lead time that is the envy of every journalist in every other medium. If a news story comes out and I get it first, I can be out on the street in ten minutes. There's never been a medium like this, with that kind of immediacy. It changes the way news happens. It also changes the way opinion happens.
Richard Saul Wurman
When I pick up a book, if it's a novel, I know that I have so many more pages to read. I know where I am in the story. When I watch a movie that I know is two hours, I know that no matter what happens in the first five minutes, it's not the end of the movie. It's going to take two hours to go through the plot. I have a sense of where I am. This is not a trivial issue. It gives me a base. It's a centering thing
"Dad," Max interrupted, "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it's kids like me that are going to be the pioneers and make things happen. We're the digerati."
Excerpted from Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite by John Brockman (HardWired Books, 1996) . Copyright © 1996 by John Brockman. All rights reserved.