John has written a terrific preview of his forthcoming book in this week's Observer, The internet: Everything you ever need to know. It's not quite everything you need to know about the Net but it covers nine things that provide a really sound intellectual framework for thinking about it. So what are the nine things?
1. It's too early to deduce the long term impact of the Internet and the closest historical analogy we have regarding a technology that transformed the world, in ways beyond imagining, is the printing press.
2. The Web is only one kind of traffic on the infrastructure (signals and tracks) that is the Net.
3. Disruption - like the Web and Napster - is a feature (not a bug) of the neutral architecture of the Net designed by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn. It was a design choice to disable central control through simple TCP/IP protocols.
4. Ecology is a better model through which to view the Net than economics. (I couldn't agree more and even gave a talk at Gikii last year about this).
5. The Net makes the world more complex. We and our private and public institutions are not great at dealing with complex systems.
6. The Network is now the computer i.e. cloud computing is here to stay and we haven't thought through the implications of this in any depth.
7. The Web is evolving towards Web 3.0 (Berners Lee's semantic Web) and beyond.
8. Huxley (we'll be destroyed by what we love) and Orwell (we'll be destroyed by what we fear) may both have been right. Will Google make us stupid and will the Net become a perfect totalitarian surveillance tool?
9. Our intellectual property landscape is out of sync with reality and in desparate need of reform.
John reckons the first five are things any reasonably informed individual should know, just as we would expect people to have a basic grasp of important issues like politics, economics or the environment. Items 6 and 7 additionally are base level knowledge for information and related professionals. I'd argue that practioners and policymakers should equally have a deep working understanding, similarly, of 8 and 9. Unfortunately these latter two, the surveillance society and intellectual property, currently reside in the esoteric walled garden realms of academics, civil rights activists and a few narrow bands of specialist professionals. I have little hope that policymakers will get this stuff any time soon. (Witness the unfortunate decision of Ofcom last week to approve BBC HD DRM).