Monday, February 19, 2007

Beyond the "Jukebox"

A response to George Will's Newsweek article.

George Will atempts to curb our enthusiasm for the latest round of technological innovation, the internet. His article serves to mute the triumphant cries by the technologically starry-eyed and to give perspective on the "real" impact of digital networks.

He misses the point.

Will opens his article by describing his daughter's AIM habits. He first approaches the "information revolution" culturally....and aptly. But when he proceeds to downplay the role of the internet by citing examples from modest tech investments or observing trends in brick-and-mortar industries, he changes the mode of his argument.

Information technologies of course have their economic impact. The cost of maintaining a website can be compared with that of a sprawling brick discounter. There are efficiencies to note and to criticize. But, in my opinion, the impact of the internet is beyond the "bottom line."

The internet is as much a cultural phenonmenon as an economic and technological one. In that sense, Will is right to call the internet a "jukebox." But the manner in which this jukebox operates is revolutionary, extending beyond mass media/pre-programming schedules from broadcasters and moving instead to user-produced content, user-regulated networks, and the infamous long tail.

Will should read Benkler's Wealth of Networks. He should attend a LINUX conference. He should compare a Wikipedia page to his print encyclopedia. Peer networks ARE something new, and they ARE something to be excited about.

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