Al Gore: Web 2.0 Needs a Purpose

“The electrifying redemption of America’s revolutionary declaration that all human beings are free and equal, would not have been possible without the additional empowerment of individuals to use knowledge as a source of power that has come with the Internet,” Al Gore said during his speech at last week’s Web 2.0 Summit.

In the first of three videos (embedded below), the former vice president and chairman of Current TV discussed among other things: World 2.0, politics, the ongoing fight to save our planet, the importance of democratizing the television media, and the significance of “puppies having a purpose.”

The Importance of Democratizing the Television Media

Likening Web 2.0 to the evolutionary path of electricity, Mr. Gore pointed out that the newness of a service or product often creates a ‘wow’ factor that holds up progress until the service is taken for granted. 100 years ago, the early uses of electricity demonstrated the special qualities of the then new conveyer of power; today, it’s everywhere, and people pay it little attention. According to Mr. Gore, much the same needs to happen with the Internet; it needs to get to the point of being like “the water that the fish don’t know they’re swimming in,” he said.

How to Democratize the Television Media

Using a story known to most business graduates, the invention of the electric dynamo, Mr. Gore explained change cannot happen until we redesign and “re-architect” the context in which these activities take place – a place he calls World 2.0.

The electric dynamo story goes back to the early days of electricity and the invention of a new electric motor – the dynamo. It was clearly demonstrated that the product was more efficient than the water wheel or steam as a source of energy so many early adopters installed it in their factory and waited. And waited. After several decades the retroactive analysis concluded that the architecture of the factories had been optimized for steam/water wheel power and the potential for the dynamo couldn’t be unleashed. Once the factories were replaced with new architecture, there was an incredible explosion of productivity.

Revolutionizing the Public Sphere

Five hundred years ago, explained Mr. Gore, the printing press revolutionized the public sphere. Before that there was a monopoly on information. With illiteracy affecting 99% of the people, information was filtered by the church, the monarchy, all economically, politically and spiritually concentrated; the print press brought radical change.


It empowered individuals to use knowledge as a source of influence and power and a new information ecosystem developed that allowed anyone who could learn to read and write to realize they could have a new sovereign – the rule of reason. According to Mr. Gore, this ability to connect, comprehend and make decisions independently matured into the American constitution.

A Puppy Has to Have a Purpose

After buying a puppy for their young children many years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Gore asked a dog trainer to come in and give them advice. Her first question was “What is the puppy’s purpose? Is it going to be a watch dog, is it going to get the newspaper in the morning, is it for the children to play with?”

Much like puppies, according to Mr. Gore, Web 2.0 has to have a purpose. The purpose he urges us to consider is to bring about a higher level of consciousness about our relationship with this planet.

“We have everything we need to save it, and in the process create millions of new jobs, reduce our national security exposure, and solve the climate crisis,” he said, but, “just as Barack Obama’s election would have been impossible without the new dialogue and new ways of interacting on the Web, the only way this is going to be solved is by addressing the democracy crisis.”

Part 1: Al Gore’s Speech [16:22]

Part 2: Al Gore talks with Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle [13:16]

Part 3: Q&A with Al Gore [17:39]

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