John Naughton, Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University and fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge, recently gave a presentation as part of the Arcadia Project seminar series. “What do people really know about the net?” is the basis of a forthcoming book, prompted by the fact that we (as a society) are dependent on the internet, but ignorant of the network (quoting Castells’ ‘informed bewilderment’). Taking his lead from George Miller’s 1955 paper (The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information), John presented seven (plus two) key ‘need to know’ points, which resonate with several of the topics in the Web Science curriculum:
- Need to take the long view. We have no idea where the web is going; printing press as an example of a similar revolution.
- The web is not the net. Trains and tracks metaphor; the internet matters, not the traffic.
- For the net, disruption is a feature, not a bug.How to design a network for applications which haven’t been dreamt of yet? Make it decentralised, and simple – delivery of data packets -> a global machine for springing surprises.
- Think ecology, not just economics. Net-centric ecosystem features: disruptive change is normal; exponential growth; loss of control; convergence.
- Complexity is the new reality. Number of players/publishers; density of interaction; speed of change.
- The network is now the computer.‘A computer is a life support system for a browser’. Cloud computing.
- The web is evolving. Web 2.0. Semantic web – ‘always a work in progress’.
- Orwell vs. Huxley. Or ‘coercion vs. seduction’. Apple products as soma? !
- Intellectual property. IP regime is broken. Remix culture. Copyright laws were fashioned in an age when copying was difficult, expensive and imperfect; not suited to an age when copying is easy, free and perfect.