Fri, Oct 4, 2013
Wow... well actually this was a bit of bold statement for such a short post I know.
First, let me assure that I do know the Internet is real and in many ways we are clearly seeing the daily impact of the Internet on our lives. Just in case you have never seen or heard of it (you won't be reading this anyway), here are just a few examples of what you can already do right now. You can:
- peruse the combined growing knowledge of man from your phone
- connect in a myriad ways with friends/colleagues using social networks
- watch or upload billions of hours of entertainment
- view and map your way around the world
- find love (and sadly find hate even easier)
- watch the current affairs of the world evolve as they happen
- video call your best friend the other side of the world in real-time
- sell a virtual product to almost the entire population of earth
- pay anyone pretty much anywhere in the world within seconds
- start a company from a café with just a laptop
- share your ideas and collaborate with people from anywhere
- write inane blog posts such as this and hope somebody thinks it may be interesting ;)
That is quite a lot of stuff without really thinking about it and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
So what's the True Internet?
All of the above are amazing and I for one have been embracing them for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first HTML in 1997 and have been online since then.
However there are still things that bother me.
One of my biggest gripes is the fact that the ultimate aim for most tech entrepreneurs is generally to build companies on the Internet with the largest market capitalisation. That is deemed by many to be the benchmark of success of an Internet company. It is the Golden Goal for most wannabe entrepreneurs and these are the stories that dominate the articles of most digital publications. $$$ first, changing the world second (the antithesis being the incredible concept and adaption of Open Source and not-for-profits like [Wikimedia] (https://www.wikimedia.org/).
But surely this is sort of shoe-horning old business aims into a new medium. We have watched as entire industries have been forced into adapting or changing their models - think the music industry, advertising industry, high-street commerce, travel industries etc. But we have still been left with the old hangover of pre-Internet business objectives.
Massive companies with a promise to "do good" and innovate are in a quagmire. Think of those little ventures like Google or Facebook for instance - they have almost everything really: incredible innovation and the funds to make dreams a reality; passionate, talented teams with optimised, streamlined, fun working environments; they ooze creativity, talent and expertise; have home access to the majority of people on earth; they have infinite amounts of money pouring in; they have brands trusted by billions.
They are still beholden to the financial markets that they serve - they have shareholders who need feeding and those hungry beasts will keep needing more.
Ultimately to achieve anything these massive companies have to sell short their ideologies and sell advertising ([cough]... people... [cough]) to fuel their spending and appease their shareholders. This is always going to be a conflict of interest.
Advertisers require more and more targeted data about individuals: what they ate for breakfast, where their children go to school, how many socks they have etc. To collate that information means destroying some of the hard earned trust of the Internet and removing our independence and right to confidentiality. People generally don't volunteer to consume ads, so most ways of currently making money online are either via direct payments or trying to find ways to subtly and covertly push them. This encourages anti-patterns from both a technical/design perspective but also perhaps more crucially from a business perspective.
In essence the more we push innovation in the current digital economic framework the more of ourselves as users we are having to give up and trade to fuel the cost of that innovation.
Getting more philosophical for a minute
For me the beauty of the Internet is the levelling of the playing field. Everyone is a potential player.
What I would love to see in this age of dangerously increasing "wealth" inequality would be the introduction/discussion of new and interesting models for building better, more sustainable ways of living and doing business.
How can we improve the world whilst crossing borders, maintaining social and political integrity and at the same time protecting from the actual environmental impact of "running" the Internet?
The problem as I see it is if the end goal is primarily money and money in its current framework is broken then we should be looking at the entire model to discern whether or not we can collectively change our own futures. This means digging right down to the bare bones of not just the technical aspects of the Internet but also the ways in which we see mankind progressing.
The inception of amazing new models of crowdfunding and the blockchain are already showing us that some people are attempting to fix the broken models. They are democratising money and I believe their principles will be a elemental part of the future landscape of finance. If we can use the Internet better to facilitate the exchange bit - the bit that we give in return for the bit that we get - then we can really start to think deeper about changing existing models.
Don't get me wrong I am neither left, middle, right, up or down wing (again I see the Internet as having a very interesting future in democratising politics). I don't see changing the exchange bit as a way of circumnavigating the law or taxation or putting a finger up to the man. That's not the point. It's just a simple observable part of the problem that has to be addressed.
Arguably there are degrees of both socialism and capitalism required to drive through this scale of change, but I would hope that we could look at the current problems as engineers, humans and with social conscience. We should be able to tackle them regardless of any pre-existing socio-political models - we in fact probably would need to create a new paradigm for the Internet Age.
Right now the capital required for large growth is based around the reality that people need money and living is getting more expensive for the majority of Earth's inhabitants as we continue down our current, unsustainable, economic rabbit hole.
Undeniably there are obviously real world costs in building business, ideas and platforms: wages, energy, transportation, properties etc all of which require addressing. It goes without saying that any shift towards a new paradigm must cater for such a transition and accommodate and be actively aware of the current necessities of today.
But herein lies the current problem. The foundations today are built upon making money - lots of it - and if money is the bit that is broken, then anything we build on top is biased right through to its most valuable, core decisions - to produce money.
Is it too late to change/improve our current Internet?
If we try to view the overall problems from the most objective, holistic perspective possible - we take away the "permanent financial growth heritage" that we have instilled in us - is there anything that we could do differently?
If a polymath, child, engineer, truck driver, mum, mathematician, builder, doctor or pet were too look at our situation and were given a completely blank slate where nothing is impossible what would they suggest and how can we use the incredible pervasiveness of the Internet to augment their ideas for solutions?
My belief is that we should be considering far more important factors in this connected age of abundance/poverty when designing our futures. Now we operate on a global stage it becomes even more essential that we now start considering our global impact together. Whether we are planning educational reform that shares our common learning with everyone on earth, or replacing the The Victorian smokescreen of "Trickle Down" ("urinal") economics. Whatever we plan, we can look at planning with the Internet as the backbone and not the money generated via the Internet.
If we can find a way in which the Internet becomes not something that we visit and expect to get something for free in exchange for us selling something personal, could we start building some incredible futures for our children?
Can we Open Source permanent education for all? Can we stop destroying our world in the name of economic growth? Can we transform the reasons that people go to work? Can we reduce adversity through transparency? Can we use the interconnectivity as a way of bypassing industry "verticals" and starting to realise that everything is universal in terms of its impact? Can we collectively empower each other to improve each others' worlds and create different platforms/strategies for focussing on the most important, human problems that we face as a species of disease, famine, energy, health, happiness, society, exploration etc.
I know this all sounds very utopian, fluffy, dreamy etc and I am the first to admit this, but I stand by the fact that in general terms, building successful systems is about problem solving by looking at problems differently. And I believe that with a new generation of tech savvy children growing up in a world completely different to the one in which I grew up in, I am hopeful that in the Internet Era we will see some enormous innovation and transformation for the benefit of mankind.
The True Internet will provide a framework for thought and innovation hopefully with the incentives falling outside of pure financial growth. Money will not be obsolete, and people will still be incentivised to innovate but the motivations will hopefully be more altruistic.
Unquestionably there will also be negatives, problems and disasters as with all sea change and as is the problem with all things invented by man. But I think the True Internet will see us harness the pervasiveness of the world's collective brain in entirely new ways and we can finally embrace exciting models for change.
Until next time...
If you are interested in any of the ideas that I have talked about or want to get in touch then send me a tweet @jimhilluk.