The Internet destroys everything: for those that have access

A couple of thoughts:

Up first, I just pre-ordered Too Big To Know by David Weinberger. You may know Weinberger as one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual. We already know of how the Internet disrupted culture and society, and in his new book Weinberger reminds us of how business was severely disrupted too (that is if businesses didn't look for new markets, but that's another story.) his focus this time is on our institutional knowledge base:

“Newspapers, encyclopedias, they are just gone, at the touch of a hyperlink,” Mr. Weinberger said. The institutions of “education and politics – they’ll just shatter. How did they get to be so fragile?” With the pained glee of a scientist discovering very bad news, he added, “knowledge for my generation was at the center of the human quest. It is going the way of the recording industry. It is a term that won’t survive the generation.”

The abundance problem of the Web, Mr. Weinberger said, is really an old one. The Roman philosopher Seneca talked about “too many books” (echoing Ecclesiastes 12:12, “of making many books there is no end.”) The issue nowadays is to some extent the need for good filters, pushing away information after centuries of seeking it.

But more important where the destruction of the institutions that supposedly steward the development of knowledge is concerned, he said, is the Web’s ever-changing structure of links, which undermines hierarchical analysis by allowing everyone to see and contribute different points of view. “In a highly-connected medium we would expect knowledge to change. And it does,” he said, “the knowledge lives in webs and networks as it has in books.” [Link]


Weinberger, in challenging our systems of knowledge organization, goes on to say "the model of a protean, ever-linked and ever-changing world is killing that. “The dream of the West has been that we will live together in knowledge, that there is One Knowledge. The Web is saying ‘Nice try.'"


The idea that “truth” is situational and changing, always best described in quote marks, has emerged in many areas of contemporary thought. Ideas of situationalism, disorder as a natural state, and perpetual change are implicit in the thinking of Darwin, Marx and Freud. Quantum physics further undermined the idea that we can know everything with observations like the Uncertainty Principle. Postmodern philosophy and literary theory also questions the idea of objective reality, in favor of knowledge based on things like political background or sexual orientation. Put another way, when William Butler Yeats wrote “the center does not hold,” he also stated the anxiety of our age. That was in 1919.

Instead of giving us of a new and better way of seeing the world, the Internet is a tool that embodies how we have wanted to see the world for some time. We have built it according to our new ideas about the world, and it gained a power that is destroying pre-existing structures.


It's worth noting here, that what Weinberger is pointing out doesn't have anything to do with the false argument espoused by some, that "the Internet is destroying the book publishing industry so people will stop reading.." Not true. As Clay Shirky has famously said "The Internet is the largest group of people who care about reading and writing, ever assembled in history."

Which brings me to the New Digital Divide an Op-Ed piece by Susan P. Crawford, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, in which she points out:

Increasingly, we are a country in which only the urban and suburban well-off have truly high-speed Internet access, while the rest — the poor and the working class — either cannot afford access or use restricted wireless access as their only connection to the Internet. As our jobs, entertainment, politics and even health care move online, millions are at risk of being left behind.

Telecommunications, which in theory should bind us together, has often divided us in practice. Until the late 20th century, the divide split those with phone access and those without it. Then it was the Web: in 1995 the Commerce Department published its first look at the “digital divide,” finding stark racial, economic and geographic gaps between those who could get online and those who could not.


In short, what Crawford says is true because of the near-monopolies that cable companies such as Time Warner and Comcast have in certain areas of the USA. Those who can afford to pay for those services do so, and those that can't don't. And those that can't afford cable ISP access at home are left struggling with inferior wireless services. Crawford notes that more and more people have mobile handsets but as she says, try doing a job interview or fill out a job application on a mobile device.

It doesn’t have to be this way, as a growing number of countries demonstrate. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks America 12th among developed nations for wired Internet access, and it is safe to assume that high prices have played a role in lowering our standing. So America, the country that invented the Internet and still leads the world in telecommunications innovation, is lagging far behind in actual use of that technology.


So now we have an inverse of the idea of 'the 99%..'

..the Pew Internet and American Life Project recently reported that 59 percent of American adults with incomes above $75,000 had a smartphone, and a 2010 study by the Federal Communications Commission found that more than 90 percent of people at that income level had wired high-speed Internet access at home.


It's time to stand up for the 30% of Americans who currently have no access to the Internet.