Disrecognized Space

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Bill Gates: Shaping the Internet Age (Topic 2.2 Theorising the Internet I)

Written in 2000, this is Bill Gates’ overview of where the internet was at that time, and where it might go. He highlights some of the prominent features of the internet in his view: it “makes the world smaller (and) brings people together” as well as making the world “simpler”.But despite its impact, today’s Internet is still roughly where the automobile was during the era of Henry Ford’s Model T. We’ve seen a lot of amazing things so far, but there is much more to come. We are only at the dawn of the Internet Age. (Gates, 2000)

While we could well be said to be at the dawn of the Internet Age, the internet has developed far more than the Model T Ford, simply because its rate of development is dependent on how people can utilise information and communication – how they can transform ideas and conceptualise new uses for this medium. It doesn’t take years of research, development, product testing and marketing for example, to come up with an idea such as Facebook or Wikipedia. Gates does, however, acknowledge this to an extent: “[the internet is an information exchange] that is able to grow organically, can operate reliably with little centralized management, and is built entirely on common standards”. (Gates, 2000)

Gates envisages the internet making everything more connected (people as well as devices) along with standards allowing data to be separated from presentation. This concentration on data is something which is further expanded in the current thinking about a semantic web, whereby data is not just available on the net, but the relationships between that data is also stated (Semantic Web Agreement Group, 2001). Stein argues, in the context of web design, that separating style and content is problematic, since they are inextricably linked (“style is content”) (Stein, 2000). In the end, does the internet user even care how the web pages they view are created, or how that data is put together and linked?

The future is not entirely rosy, however, and a number of issues are addressed, though some of these are issues of uncertainty and lack of familiarity, since they are issues that relate to any technology (security, privacy, protecting children, the role of government and the divide between those with access to the technology and those without). Are these problems anything new? Or are they familiar issues associated with any new technology (the only difference being the global, decentralised nature of the access the internet provides)?

Gates observes that “The main advantage of any new technology is that it amplifies human potential.” (Gates, 2000) Of course, this can be the potential to create a new, more democratic community, or it can be the potential to circumvent copyright, though he is generally optimistic that we will overcome the challenges he identifies.

While gates does discuss social issues, he generally views them from a technological perspective. Is the internet “one of the key cultural and economic forces of the early 21st century” as Gates (2000) states, or is that the view from a certain techno-optimistic, internet-connected stance? Are the potential problems associated with it insurmountable, or do they just seem so, as with any new technology?

Bibliography

Gates, B. (2000). Shaping the Internet Age. Retrieved March 4, 2008 from http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/billg/writing/shapingtheinternet.mspx
Semantic Web Agreement Group (2001). What is the semantic web? Retrieved March 20, 2008 from http://swag.webns.net/whatIsSW
Stein, B (2000). Separation Anxiety: The Myth of the Separation of Style from Content. Retrieved March 22, 2008 from http://www.alistapart.com/articles/separation/

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