A never-to-be-repeated revolution

In noting that November 2005 is the 15th anniversary of the very first web page, James Boyle in his Financial Times article, Web’s never-to-be-repeated revolution says, “… there are three things that we need to understand about the web. First, it is more amazing than we think. Second, the conjunction of technologies that made the web successful was extremely unlikely. Third, we probably would not create it, or any technology like it, today. In fact, we would be more likely to cripple it, or declare it illegal.”  Mr. Boyle is professor of law at Duke Law School, a co-founder of the Centre for the Study of the Public Domain and a board member of Creative Commons.

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3 thoughts on “A never-to-be-repeated revolution

  1. Colm Smyth

    Hi Perry,

    Interesting post. I for one never cease to be amazed by the web, espcially the way that HTML and HTTP transformed the equally amazing Internet from a communication tool of scientists and geeks into a network of places. The rate of evolution has accelerated as more tools (search engines, WYSIWYG HTML editors, blogging tools) made the web more useful and more human.

    Although at college I had internet access, in a company I worked at only 15 years ago, the only connection we had to the internet was an ftp link for downloading net news in batches. Today newsgroups have been all but completely superceded by the ability to have direct access to information sources. The web has enabled information to be published, shared and found, from anywhere to anywhere.

    It is indeed fortunate that the web existed before say 9/11 because there are those who are concerned about its capacity to allow communication to support illegal activity. However the internet is the solution to it’s own problems; it allows society’s watchmen to share information and compute power just as it does for the criminal.

    All the best,
    Colm.

    Reply
  2. perry Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Colm. I’d make two points in response.

    The first is that during my college years even the beginnings of the Internet were only a gleam in DARPA’s eye. College papers were done on manual typewriters using erasable bond paper (“white out” was also a thing of the future), and all research was done in the stacks of the college library with materials that were dug out of the card catalog. I’ve often wondered how much easier college would seem to be today with computers, the Internet and search engines.

    The second point is that even before 9/11 the government was very concerned about the use of the Internet by criminals and terrorists. Remember the flap over Phil Zimmermann’s release of PGP? One of the more hopeful signs of the Internet’s ability to regulate itself is something like Wikipedia, where as soon as a page is defaced, someone else comes along to restore it to sanity. Would that such self-correction were in place throughout society.

    Perry

    Reply
  3. Colm Smyth

    Perry,

    I agree that study is easier with the internet, but it has a dark side too. It can seduce people into a laziness – the belief that the internet is their personal oracle. Cut-and-paste offers a quick-fix answer, so why should anyone bother to actually learn anything?

    We may yet regard people who can remember facts and figures or do basic arithmetic in their heads as either mental giants or throwbacks.

    However again the problems that computers create can also be solved by them. If students use cut-and-paste to create “mosaic” essays, then instead ask them to just create a structure for their points, highlight their personal perceptions, and do multiple-choice Q&A with a timelimit. That would ensure that they have to learn and use all the skills they will need to be productive.

    If nothing else, it has been shown that mental fitness is maintained through curiosity, real conversation, continuous learning, puzzles and even some kinds of games. Today we have to go to a gym to get a workout, maybe tomorrow we will have to do mental gymnastics to keep our grey matter in shape!

    And I hope that people continue to read; books (whether paper or digital) require a faculty of concentration and imagination that we can’t afford to lose.

    Colm.

    Reply

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