Image by Lyn Millett via Flickr
Scott Rosenberg discussed an intriguing conversation that involved Mark Zuckerberg and the people who organize the big Web 2.0 conference. Apparently a "map" of "points of control" for the Internet was under discussion. And Zuckerberg observed that the map was misleading.
I think that the biggest part of the map has got to be the uncharted territory. Right? One of the best things about the technology industry is that it’s not zero sum. This thing makes it seem like it’s zero sum. Right? In order to take territory you have to be taking territory from someone else. But I think one of the best things is, we’re building real value in the world, not just taking value from other companies.
Now, this possibly self-serving insight aside, I don't actually find Zuckerberg all that thoughtful or insightful and am generally unhappy with Facebook. But I do think that Rosenberg's follow-on observations are worth heeding:
The portion of the online realm that we’ve already invented is still a mere fraction of the total job of creation that we’ll collectively perform. There is more world to come than world already made.
[...] The Net is still young and what we do with it and on it remains an early work in progress. The “uncharted territory” still beckons those who enjoy exploring.
So true! There is a paradoxical nature to information technologies - on the one hand, innovation happens fast ("internet time") and there's always something new. On the other hand, we often integrate technologies so quickly that it becomes hard to imagine life without them. People "joke" about things like "how did I find my way around before Google Maps?" but sometimes it really is cause for wonder, as we quickly "forget" old skills and knowledge (not knowing anyone's phone number anymore is another example).
Speaking of timely integration of technology, I was driving our small commuter car the other day. It's a 2001 Honda Civic with about 100,000 miles on it. I like it. It also has sentimental value as it's the first major investment Spouse and I made together - even before we were married. It felt like more of a commitment than getting married, in some ways! But I digress. Anyway, so I'm driving it on the Beltway and I glance at the dashboard and I notice that it has a cassette player. A cassette player. Now, I don't have any cassettes left. Spouse does in a box somewhere that he swears he'll digitize someday. But we don't play cassettes. I had the brief thought process: "Why in the world did we get a car with a cassette player? Why not a cd player, at least? What were we thinking?"
And then I remember. The first iPod was released in the fall of 2001. We bought the car in the spring of 2001. And we didn't buy iPods until maybe the 3rd generation. We weren't even thinking in terms of our "music library" or playing iPod music through the car stereos. We expect/hope to keep the car many more years. But the cassette player mocks me, now, every time I drive it. (And I'm too cheap to install a new sound system in that car.)
Having been online a long, long time, I try to keep in mind that my favorite tools and technologies of today will not be what I'm doing or using 2 years from now. And certainly not what I'm using 5 years from now. 5 years ago there was no Twitter. Today, it is an integral part of my information input flow and an important (though not quite crucial) part of my informal communications. In 2006 or 2007 I was beyond excited to finally get a Blackberry and be able to see my email (just email, in a simple text format) wherever I happened to be. Today, the whole Internet is in my pocket along with dozens of "apps" I had no idea I "needed" until the last year or so.
The point is not that we are fickle, fickle human beings. What I try to keep in mind is that it's not useful to worry too much about whether I've hopped on the appropriate bandwagon or am keeping up with everything that's going on. There are some fundamental aspects of online communication that persist across platforms and technologies. Moreover, it can be hard to tell early on which will really take off (Twitter) and which will languish. So don't sweat it. My own curiosity makes me want to poke at new things a bit as they show up - but I try not to feel guilty if I don't have time to really grok something - because before you know it, there'll be a new thing, a new tool, a new technology that's getting all the press. It's ok to ride the wave and not do a complete undersea exploration.
What's fun to think about, though, is what will those new indispensable tools and technologies of 2012, 2015 be? What will be must-have (and useful!) applications, websites, apps, or gadgets then? And which of today's favorites will persist -- often we do layer things on instead of outright replacing them -- and which will be lost to the mists of internet time?