Home This Brave New World is More of the Same

This Brave New World is More of the Same

I was thinking about Internet technologies today, as I often do, when I came to a conclusion. I believe, on repeated reflection, that all technologies that flow from the Internet – including Web, social media, mobile – are not qualitatively different than anything that came before. They are instead, differences in quantity.

That is, every one of the technologies that has changed the appearance of the information landscape are characterized by increases in one or both of the following qualities: speed and access.

So, email is quicker than a letter; instant messaging is quicker than email. Abebooks.com gives me access to more books, more quickly than calling around or sending letters. RSS feeds give me access to more thoughts, more quickly than visiting a host of blogs and online sites.

The only possible exception to this conclusion that I have come to – and it is only a possible exception – is augmented reality. I am no expert in AR, as I am smart-phoneless by nature for the nonce. However, a case could be made that the difference is perceptual, that a layered vision is a change in quality of vision, not just in quantity.

But you could also make the case that it is in fact just a difference in quantity: instead of looking up a photo, or using a GPS to determine your location and then using a search engine to look up information on that location (or object), AR just speeds up the process.

And now that I have followed that line of thinking through, the quantitative argument seems more compelling than the qualitative, even on AR.

So, do you agree or disagree? If the latter, which technologies do you believe are qualitatively different than that which came before? Or which tech has changed the nature of our world instead of simply compressing the speed by which we reach it or broadening access to it?

To be clear, I don’t think this necessarily makes the technology less important or useful or needful of coverage. Simply, as that most odious of Georgians once said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

Image of John Stuart Mill via Martin Beek | Thinker by Brian Hillegas

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