So what do we know about this medium–this Internet?
We know that there are three laws that govern the Internet, and none was penned by a legislator. The first of these is Moore’s Law–a nifty bit of insight offered by Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel. Moore’s Law states that every 18 months, processing power will double, while costs remain constant. It’s the principle on which Gordon Moore built his business, and it’s proved remarkably accurate. Moore’s law has been essential not only in terms of how it has driven innovation, but in how it’s made basic computing capability more affordable for a mass audience.
That brings us to the second law that governs the Internet. Metcalfe’s Law, offered by Bob Metcalfe–a guy who knows quite a lot about networks–he invented Ethernet, and founded 3Com. Metcalfe’s Law states that the utility of a network equals the square of the number of its users. Consider the computer you’re looking at now… Imagine it unplugged from the network. Alone. Isolated. It’s still a computer. You can run a spreadsheet, edit a document, play a game. But once you connect that computer to even just one more, the power of your own computer increases dramatically. You can now share those documents, or send messages to the other computer on your network. The utility of your computer continues to increase–geometrically–with each additional node that is introduced to your network.
And that brings us to the third law that governs the Internet. At a certain point–critical mass–the power of the computing network is so great that it extends beyond the realm of technology alone, and affects the social, economic and political worlds in which it operates. This is the Law of Disruption, described by Chunka Mui in Unleashing the Killer App. Between the accelerated curve of technological change and the incremental curve of human change there is a widening gap–a vacuum–and a vacuum is a powerful force. I believe that both the fundamental cause for that gap, and the vehicle that will fill it–the agent of change–are one and the same… the Internet.
And so we are where we began, with the birth of a new medium–the invention of a vehicle for communication that disrupts as it transforms. The effects of this particular medium will be especially powerful, and likely unusually disruptive. While other mediums have empowered the individual to communicate with the masses, to do so on a large scale has always required an intermediary–an art gallery, a publisher, a theatre or broadcast company. These are powerful organizations, groups that are rarely content merely to replicate a message, when they can edit and augment it as well.
The Internet, however, is inherently a many-to-many medium. Virtually anyone who has the ability to browse the web has the capability to publish on the web, without the services–or the editorial predilections–of any intermediary whatsoever. It’s interesting to imagine what might have transpired if Thug’s cave art were instantly transported to every cave that chose to tune in. Or if there had been a printing press in every kitchen.
It’s just as interesting to imagine where the Internet will lead us. I don’t claim to know. But I expect it’ll be a helluva ride.