December 4, 2008
The Internet Is An All-In-One Machine
Kevin Kelly, one of Snarkmarket’s many intellectual crushes, now has a downloadable PDF of his “Better Than Free” manifesto available through Change This, which is like Revelator’s brainy futurist cousin.
Here’s how “Better Than Free” starts:
The Internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, and every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times.
True! But the internet isn’t just a copy machine; it’s an all-in-one machine! Sure, we might mostly be using it to make copies, especially in the blogosphere. But when it’s not all jammed up, this machine of ours can really do a whole lot more.
Change This is a great example. Sure, they could just copy the text of Kelly’s manifesto, or point to it with a link. But instead they’ve taken the time to add value by giving that text a new, physically rich form. In other words, they’ve printed it — taking that text and creating a well-designed document.
And what about Wikipedia? Sure, a lot of those entries are just auto-generated from old Brittanicas, or cut-and-pasted from fan sites and news articles. But a whole lot are patiently entered in by devotees, translating either from the offline analog world or from one language or context into the new, universal encyclopedia. It’s the same impulse that leads people to track down old TV commercials or bootleg alternate endings to movies. It’s what prompts them to track down the genuine text for obscure interviews between George Bernard Shaw and an Islamic mystic. These are the digital humanists, the scanners — in this case freeing media from their old physical form before it can bounce around on the copying web.
Because ultimately, the web is really about faxing — broadcasting your content to the world. The ability to freely copy, scan, or print would just be an exercise in narcissism if there wasn’t a way for that message to reach a receiver, whether anonymous or known to us. This is what YouTube does, what Facebook does, and (yes) what blogging does — it creates that electronic chain between sender and recipient, only in all directions, like light itself.
If you want to be more than a copy machine, you have to do at least one of these, and do it well.