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November 7, 2010

The Net is old, the Net is new.: Opening remarks at [email protected]

I had the honor of making very brief opening remarks at the State Departments [email protected] twitter Civil Society 2.0 unconference on Friday hosted by the World Bank. The room was full of people using tech to help others around the world. Heres roughly = I dont have my notes what I said:

For no obvious reason, over the past couple of weeks, two things keep coming to mind.

First, Ive found myself thinking about the first time I touched the keyboard of my own computer. It was a Kay Pro II, so it must have been in the early 1980s. I was a humanities major, but as soon as I saw a green letter show up on the tiny screen, I was fascinated. I knew it wasnt mechanical, of course, so I knew that between the key press and the glowing letter, there was logic. I was fascinated by how logic could make things happen in the real world.

Second, a question has come up a couple of times [most recently in correspondence with AKMA]: Is the Net showing us something new about ourselves, or something old? After all, the world of the Net is very weird when compared to what were used to. We think of it as a space, but its geography is bizarre: e.g., a link is a door that lets you enter a room and then vanishes behind you. If this new world is so bizarre, why have we embraced it so quickly and thoroughly?

Now, Im going to guess that we in this room believe that the Net is something new and important on the order of the printing press, or maybe fire. It works by lowering hurdles. First, it lowers the hurdles to creating new things, because we can turn logic into reality. You could do that with computers, but with the Net, we can build things together, and what we build is more easily public. Second, the Net lowers the hurdles to connecting with one another.

And, what is it that we each want to do when we wake up in the morning? Create and connect.

The Net, at its best, liberates us from old restrictions so that we can more easily do that which we have always longed to do, and that which is the best of being human: creating and connecting. Thats why this very new technology feels so familiar.

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