This year’s EDGE question was: “How has the internet changed the way you think?” As always, the dynamic range of responses is astonishing: from the glib and angstrom-shallow to the super-smart and ultra-deep.
My favorite so far is Kevin Kelly’s—in part because it’s more observational than argumentative. He does such a nice job simply describing what it’s like to use the internet today:
This waking dream we call the Internet also blurs the difference between my serious thoughts and my playful thoughts, or to put it more simply: I no longer can tell when I am working and when I am playing online. For some people the disintegration between these two realms marks all that is wrong with the Internet: It is the high-priced waster of time. It breeds trifles. On the contrary, I cherish a good wasting of time as a necessary precondition for creativity, but more importantly I believe the conflation of play and work, of thinking hard and thinking playfully, is one the greatest things the Internet has done.
And, not to give away the ending or anything, but:
We are developing an intense, sustained conversation with this large thing. The fact that it is made up of a million loosely connected pieces is distracting us. The producers of Websites, and the hordes of commenters online, and the movie moguls reluctantly letting us stream their movies, don’t believe they are mere pixels in a big global show, but they are. It is one thing now, an intermedia with 2 billion screens peering into it. The whole ball of connections—including all its books, all its pages, all its tweets, all its movies, all its games, all its posts, all its streams—is like one vast global book (or movie, etc.), and we are only beginning to learn how to read it.
This seems incontrovertible to me. Hmm. I thought about it some more, and in fact it seems both right and wrong to me. Right because—well, it’s obviously just descriptively correct. But wrong in the sense that I actually find myself searching out, and responding to, holistic works with human intention behind them. That is to say: stuff that’s not made up of a million autonomous parts. Stuff that you can draw a line around—a book, a movie, an argument. Hmm. I think it’s “mere pixels in a big global show” that’s throwing me off, because I’m not sure it really is all part of the same show.
In any case, I still really want to be Kevin Kelly when I grow up. Given the assignment of answering this year’s EDGE question, I wouldn’t have bothered to observe myself so closely; I wouldn’t have crafted such great language to describe what I saw.
Another answer that I liked: Stewart Brand’s. But of course you saw that coming. Hey, guys: I think the Snarkmatrix is a guild.