The Nature of the Net

2004-02-08

The ever-insightful Doc Searls continues to reflect on the dot-Dean implosion. He links to his 2001 article The New Vernacular, which impresses me even now. In it, Doc situates the Net and the open-source community within the various levels of temporal change, from slow-changing nature to fast-changing fashion. Open source is a culture of freedom one step above nature; in his blog entry, Doc says that "the Internet is a Nature-level change in civilization" because it "sits beneath everything" and therefore "changes everything" (which may be one reason the forces of fashion and commerce want to change the Net before it changes them). Similarly, in another post-implosion analysis, Jay Rosen quotes Jeff Jarvis to the effect that the Net "can do miraculous, wonderful things, but it can't win an election. It can change the world, but it can't win an election."

Think about that last sentence: the Internet can change the world, but it can't win an election. A corollary is that elections don't change the world. The advertising mongers at the major media like to think that governance is deeply important (right up there with fashion and commerce on the evening news), but they have no clue about the Nature and Culture levels that Doc has explicated. The hard truth is that politics and governance are decidedly secondary. Those who take the long view don't get excited about this or that candidate and don't especially care who won last week's primary. They are, in a profound sense, anti-political. Nietzsche meant something similar when he said (La Gaya Scienza, Section 338):

Live in ignorance about what seems most important to your age. Between yourself and today lay the skin of at least three centuries. And the clamor of today, the noise of wars and revolutions, should be a mere murmur for you.

Three centuries. The year 2304. The kind of time-scale on which SF writers think. Will anyone know or care who John Kerry or George Bush was in 2304? I doubt it. But they will honor those who built the Internet, if not by name then at least by acknowledging the nature of their achievement.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal