From Highway to Byway
Even if you don't remember the Information Superhighway, that's what we have now, and we need to bypass it.
When the Internet started to take off in the mid-’90s, damn near everybody called it the “information superhighway.” The Google Ngram search above shows what a craze it was. If it wouldn’t violate a pile of copyrights, I’d screen-grab a Google or a Bing search for information+superhighway+covers to show you how much buzz that metaphor got. It was beyond huge.
And, as we now see, the Internet is less a vast commons than an enclosed highway with lanes I might crudely label like this:
And there are so many more: TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and so on. These are the lanes on which we drive our browsers and phone apps.
But the Internet is not what’s done on it, how those things make money, or how many people use those things. The Internet is all the networks of the world, connecting all the ends on those networks, exchanging all kinds of packetized data, without prejudice toward the contents of that data, at costs that round to zero. That’s what the Internet’s base protocol, TCP/IP, makes possible. Countless other uses are still possible. And inevitable.
Because it’s still early.
Digital technology has been with us for only a few decades. We’ve begun to assume ubiquitous connectivity (meaning your phone is on the Net nearly everywhere you go) in just the last half-decade or less. Yet we will be living digital lives for dozens, hundreds, or thousands of decades to come.
So we don’t need to settle for the status quo. We can do better.
For example, with the Byway project I’m working on with a smart collection of folks around Customer Commons and the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University. (Also bridging from work we’ve been doing for sixteen years at ProjectVRM, kindly hosted by the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.)
I look forward to seeing you there. And visiting these topics in an upcoming podcast as well.