Sunday, July 22, 2012

Some Thoughts on "The True Story of the Internet": "Search" and "People Power"

Both documentaries were fascinating. It was interesting to learn how the big search engines like Yahoo! and Google or sites like Digg and Napster were created--all by very young college students. The thought that was in the back of my head all the way through both documentaries was that what John Heilemann was describing was happening while I was a university student myself (1995-2001). While I was getting frustrated with (at that time) highly acclaimed Altavista, and agonized over the price of music on CDs, my contemporaries, like Shawn Fanning, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page were turning my frustrations into their inventions.

I never gave much thought to what the Internet means and how it has been rapidly changing our lives and the ways we communicate and also do things. Think of shopping--we have a choice of whether we want the instant gratification of walking into a store and buying what we want. Or whether we (at any time of day or night) want to place an order with a few clicks, and have the item delivered to us a few days later. Think of listening to music--one does not need to own a CD player or a similar device any more. You don't even need to use a computer to listen to music, watch a movie, or send an email... When I need to get in touch with my family that lives over 6,000 miles away, I have so many choices: email, Facebook, instant messaging, or Skype just to name a few. We can share pictures through sites like Picasa, Flickr, or Rajce (Czech picture sharing service called "tomato" in English). However, only some 20 "short" years ago, I could choose between a phone call, that would cost a fortune, or "snail mail", that could take three weeks!

I consider the most powerful thoughts from the documentaries to be "communication" and "engagement". The idea of our ultimate desire to communicate and contribute to communication (rather than just be a passive receiver) seemed so true and fascinating.

I also noticed that there was a relevant concept that the documentary missed (or intentionally avoided?). As a result, it was captivating to watch, but for me, ended up being somewhat one-dimensional. Both documentaries were a celebration of what a handful of smart, young (and let’s admit it) privileged college students achieved and how it changed and freed communication over a short period of time. What seemed omitted was the digital divide that was created. Yes, their ingenuity freed communication, but for who? Only for those privileged who have the resources to buy the equipment, gadgets, and Internet service necessary to enjoy this freedom. Even in the United States, there are still a lot of people whose access to the "communication freedom" is very limited.

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