The internet is up for debate again. I'd like to connect the thoughts of 3 smart women and one dead white male.
What I see is a generational divide - there is my generation, who built the internet; the protocols, the applications and are filling it with our thoughts and ramblings. For this generation, I'd claim Douglas Adams, whose 1999 essay I keep returning to. Do go read the whole thing; I'm going to cite a small part of it today:
we are still the first generation of users, and for all that we may have invented the net, we still don't really get it. In The Language Instinct, Stephen Pinker explains the generational difference between pidgin and creole languages. A pidgin language is what you get when you put together a bunch of people — typically slaves — who have already grown up with their own language but don't know each others'. They manage to cobble together a rough and ready lingo made up of bits of each. It lets them get on with things, but has almost no grammatical structure at all.
However, the first generation of children born to the community takes these fractured lumps of language and transforms them into something new, with a rich and organic grammar and vocabulary, which is what we call a Creole. Grammar is just a natural function of children's brains, and they apply it to whatever they find.
The same thing is happening in communication technology. Most of us are stumbling along in a kind of pidgin version of it, squinting myopically at things the size of fridges on our desks, not quite understanding where email goes, and cursing at the beeps of mobile phones. Our children, however, are doing something completely different.
danah boyd has been talking to our children, the MySpace generation, who have grown up with pervasive networking, and are making it their own place, a parallel world interwoven into their real-world lives:
What we're seeing right now is a cultural shift due to the introduction of a new medium and the emergence of greater restrictions on youth mobility and access. The long-term implications of this are unclear. Regardless of what will come, youth are doing what they've always done - repurposing new mediums in order to learn about social culture.
Technology will have an effect because the underlying architecture and the opportunities afforded are fundamentally different. But youth will continue to work out identity issues, hang out and create spaces that are their own, regardless of what technologies are available.
Suw Charman, of the Open Rights Group, spoke at the RSA on the internet golden age this week (there is a full mp3 recording of the debate). I'm extracting Suw's conclusion:
Our hope is in teenagers, because they have grown up with the internet in a way that none of us have. For them this is all second nature - they will route round the damage that is done, but we have to make sure there is not too much damage for them to try and heal.
Susan Crawford, of OneWebDay, wrote a discussion of framing that talks of the founding fathers who say the Internet is a collection of standards that allow the networking of computers, the users who say the Internet is the collection of interactions and relationships that happen online, and contrasts them with the telcos who say that "the Internet" is about cables and connections that they charge for.
This leads us to a different generation, the politicians and incumbent executives who have prospered in a narrow culture of favours exchanged behind closed doors, of regulatory creation of monopoly rents, and who look at the next two generations with fear. It is up to us to make sure that the dynamic spontaneous orders that are continually being created with the Internet's help are not choked off by a backlash from the old order.
My generation draws the Internet as a cloud that connects everyone; the younger generation experiences it as oxygen that supports their digital lives. The old generation sees this as a poisonous gas that has leaked out of their pipes, and they want to seal it up again. This is why we need to fight for our spontaneous orders.
Ultimately, I believe the our more open way will succeed through it's very creative, positive-sum nature, but that does not mean we should complacently stand by.