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How important is the Web?

Amazingly, the course I’ve been co-teaching with John Palfrey, called The Web Difference, ends on Tuesday. The question the course poses is, unsurprisingly: Is the Web very different from what came before, a little different, or not different? More important, in what ways? The class has looked at a number of different domains and dimensions. (A now outdated version of the syllabus is here.)

John and I haven’t talked about what to do on the last day, but I’m tempted to raise the question of the Web’s difference by asking the class how epochal they think the Web is. Is it different enough and important enough to call this the Age of the Web? (For purposes of this discussion, I’m not distinguishing between the Web and the Internet. If you’d rather substitute “Internet,” I won’t argue. And, yes, I do know the difference.)

Since that’s still pretty vague, suppose we were to ask whether the Web is as big a deal — in terms of defining an epoch — as genetic manipulation. TV. The telephone. Anesthetics. CB radio. The printing press. Paperback books. Bronze. Steam engines. Commercial aviation. Electric keyboards. The computer. Ball point pens. Johnny Depp.

Personally, I think it’s roughly on the order of the printing press. But I also believe that Wikipedia is our Gutenberg Bible… no, not in terms of credibility or spiritual depth, but as the artifact that shows the importance of the new technology. I suspect and hope many of the students in our class thoroughly disagree… [Tags: ]

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