28 February 2014

This Message from the Internet - Now That Your Mind Are Belong to Us, We're Going to Blow Up Your Ideas of Normal

Next month, the Internet turns 25. It has laid the foundation for something extraordinary.

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing.

By 1464, 25 years later, the Gutenberg Bible had been created. Previously, only institutions could afford bibles because they were so labor-intensive to transcribe, requiring more than a man-year of labor. Now the bible was something the individual could aspire to own. (Although its cost, initially about three years of a clerk's wage, was closer in price to a house than a meal.)

It was nearly 100 years later (in 1534) that Martin Luther had completed his translation of the Old Testament into German. His translation of the Bible into the language of everyday German people helped to create a new kind of religion based on personal understanding and revelation, no longer reliant on the official pronouncements of the church that had monopoly rights to the Bible. The individual could now judge the church - any church - based on his understanding of scripture; this was a radical shift from the Medieval Church.

A century between the invention of a tool that changed how people thought to social revolution. It might not take that long this time.

25 years ago, as reported by PewResearch, ,
Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Lee wrote a paper on March 12, 1989 proposing an “information management” system that became the conceptual and architectural structure for the Web. He eventually released the code for his system —for free—to the world on Christmas Day in 1990. It became a milestone in easing the way for ordinary people to access documents and interact over a network of computers called the internet —a system that linked computers and that had been around for years. The Web became especially appealing after Web browsers were perfected in the early 1990s to facilitate graphical displays of pages on those linked computers. 
It's difficult to find any data on adoption rates for books produced by the Gutenberg press, but it's hard to imagine that it's been as rapid as the adoption of the Internet.

87% of Americans now use the Internet. Use is 99% in households with income greater than $75,000, and 97% for young adults and college grads. That's pretty close to saturation levels. In just 20 years, we've gone from only 14% of the population who use the Internet to only 13% who do not.

Smartphone ownership has jumped from 35% to 58% in just 3 years. (And curiously, ownership among Hispanics - at 61% - is significantly higher than among Whites - at 53%. I can't help but remember the story of the King of Portugal, present when Alexander Graham Bell first demonstrated the phone, being so amazed when he spoke to one of his people in the other room. "But how does it know Portuguese," he asked.)

By giving the Bible to everyday Germans, Gutenberg and Martin Luther unleashed forces that transformed how we thought about religion, government, knowledge, and ourselves.

Already the Internet has played a role in revolutions in places like Egypt, Syria, and the Ukraine. Does anyone really believe that once you've given everyday individuals access to the wide world that it won't eventually transform our notions of politics, business, education, community, and what it means to be an individual once again? Technologies that change how we think and communicate can't help but change how we live. If anyone thinks that the Internet isn't going to undermine the norms and structures of governments, corporations, schools, and churches simply hasn't thought very hard about it.

The Internet hasn't just re-wired our world. It's re-wired our brains. And you'll see increasing evidence of those newly wired minds restructuring the world around them.

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