Friday, June 20, 2014

Has the Internet Changed Your Thinking?'s 2010 annual question asks you whether the internet has changed your thinking. I decided to take a moment and ponder the question.

The internet came to play a part in my life, through dial-up connections and then early cable modems, in my late high school/early college days 15 years ago. And yet, the medium (or is it something more?) still feels novel to me, as if there are future world changing marvels around the corner in coming years. Why do I feel this way? I'm just going on what the past has brought; what could have stagnated as a collection of dull HTML text-centric pages has continued to evolve into much more. Some of the major innovations have included e-commerce (ebay, amazon), information organization (Google), streaming video (YouTube, Hulu, Netflix), file sharing (Napster, bit torrents), social networks (Facebook), encyclopedias (Wikipedia), blogs (Blogger,Technorati,TechCrunch), microblogs (Twitter), location based services (Google Maps, Foursquare, Yelp), and RSS feeds (Google Reader). The promise beckons of location aware, mobile enabled, recommendation based systems that could "do the thinking for us" as a set of algorithms, sensors, and keywords determine what information is brought to our attention.
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The internet has changed my thinking in regards to what I feel capable of accomplishing personally. The bar has never been lower for the entrepreneur in terms of marketing and distribution tools. The paradigm has shifted from push media to pull. Consumers are now producers. The billions lost by print (and soon to be TV) media are being distributed amongst tens of thousands of bloggers and small web site owners. Your Uncle Joe advertises his sailing website to sell his self-published, print-on-demand/Kindle book, and he also makes money selling ad space. And this all happened in the last decade. A career under the umbrella of a lumbering organization is no longer a necessity for an army of freelance content creators, coders, and information brokers whom otherwise would never be able to connect to those willing to pay for their services.
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The internet has changed my thinking about artificial intelligence, as well, which I now view will become manifest as data-driven, personalized systems which influence the way we behave. Already, an online presence can enhance our lives immensely in how others interact with us. Information shared on Facebook connects one to acquaintances in new ways. Dating and other social sites, like and, connect people digitally so they can interact personally. As services mature, algorithms will get better at directing us towards people, events, goals, objects, and media driving us towards new experiences. Certain types of knowledge, in mathematical (Wolfram Alpha), factual (Wikipedia), and person-to-person (Yahoo Answers/Elance, real racing hack) form, will continue moving towards anytime, anywhere availability. The rising velocity of solutions, accessible by the educated worldwide, shrinks the globe and provides hope.

Finite and Infinite Games

In many ways the Internet Age feels like hedonism to me. I love to read and have fallen headfirst into the vice of information snacking fed by an endless stream of content sites, RSS feeds, twitter links, and Facebook posts. I enjoy learning about the latest news in science, business, economics, startups, and the tech industry. 

But with all that it's still fun to indulge in old-fashioned books in print. I can't help but buy new books, I'm currently reading Kevin Kelly's "What Technology Wants", Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers." I also just finished Andrew Sorkin's "Too Big to Fail." The modes of interaction with the physical object of a book seem ill-substituted by content on a web browser or even e-book readers. Sitting with a book in hand invites reflection, iteration, and even conversation in ways "e-ink" does not.
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The effect feels more pronounced when you come across such a sweet little philosophical tract like James Carse's Finite and Infinite Games. He has you from the beginning with:

There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.
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The book proceeds from this little definition to elaborate ideas about culture, identity, power, property, title and society with the implicit backdrop that life is really just a series of games. I've always found the notion of a dreaming universe and worlds within worlds extremely romantic. I love movies like Inception and The Matrix and books like Godel Escher Bach. 

I guess I'm come to learn what my niche is. I was surprisingly pleased to learn Kevin Kelly spent a decade penniless walking around shooting photos in China. Now he writes about the inevitable self-organizing movement of technology. I want to be a voice in this new culture where free thought addresses the changes that are drastically shaping our lives.