Steve Jobs famously said that the computer “is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with and it is equivalent to a bicycle for our minds”. If a computer is a bicycle for the mind, what is the internet? A computer just makes the mind more powerful and enhances its memory. A lone computer gives humans tools: it can calculate quickly, store documents and files, help people do work more efficiently and be creative using a new medium. It was a great invention. Though the pre-internet computer era was before my time, I still understand and appreciate how powerful it was (even without being interconnected) in enhancing human abilities. To extend the metaphor though, a bicycle is great, but it is still limited by the input of the user. A computer enhances a persons capability but it is still limited to what that individual can input into a computer. It is still isolated.
The internet changed all of that. Now instead of being dependent on the capabilities of one computer, the whole world is now your tool. You can search the world’s information on Google. Ask the world a question (or a very small but interesting subset of it) on Quora. Share your thoughts on WordPress or Tumblr. Learn using Khan’s Academy, MIT OCW or Stanford’s new online courses. Information has finally become ubiquitous and free.
I want to say that the internet is the most remarkable tool that has ever been come up with an it is equivalent to a rocket ship teleportation device for our minds. Under a literal interpretation, Google maps can take us anywhere instantly. Though more interesting than physical geography, are the worlds of ideas and people. Virtually any piece of knowledge that is in the public domain can be accessed instantly. A connection can be made with any willing person. This democratized access to people and ideas is incredibly powerful. It is what is causing software to eat the world. This virtual teleportation ability has or will cause the disintermediation of most middle men. They will be replaced by centralized virtual hubs of activity in the areas of commerce, learning, social connection, music, wellness, entertainment and more.
Having access to a virtual teleportation device is wonderful, powerful and potentially dangerous. It lets people access what they want instantly and for free. Oftentimes this means content creators aren’t paid for their work and new addictions are created. Games, music and movies (all great things in moderation) win out over more productive pursuits. Addictiveness accelerates. Focusing becomes more difficult. Despite these drawbacks, the internet is still the greatest invention of all time in my mind. Teleport wisely, my friend.