Future of the Internet Panel Notes

Several people have commented about the dissenters in the audience at the recent Future of the Internet panel at NYU (YouTube here*). Mostly negatively.

Two impressive ones were the fellow who said (not an exact quote): "You accept conditions of social lockdown in your society [joking about the guy in the crowd listening to his earpiece or what have you] so it is no surprise you are gradually giving up your freedoms on the Internet." One of the comedians on the panel immediately made fun of him--unpleasant truths should always be laughed off.

A man who spoke up in favor of Nicholas Negroponte's "one laptop per child" for its reduction of the computer to engineering fundamentals sparked the panel's most engaging discussion. Clay Shirky had dissed the 100 dollar laptop for third world children as a social initiative where the technology was 90 percent right in terms of being innovative on many levels (new chipset, new browser, new operating system?) but violated libertarian, market principles because it was being sold en masse to governments rather than being something individual consumers wanted. The man in the audience was noting how intuitive and simple the laptop's architecture was. Shirky said yes but it has no community around it of people who can explain it friends and loved ones. The commenter spoke of the laptop as "capital" and Shirky emphasized the role of "social capital" in making it a useful, everyday item. He speculated that the child laptop could be like Xerox PARC--a failure that launched ideas that later revolutionized computational and social practice.

No one in the room questioned the absurdity of the artists and social visionaries all using Mac computers so it was refreshing to hear some "what if" regarding a completely different, completely stripped down kind of general purpose computer being the source of revolutionary change.

Some of the panelists did talk about the dangers of new software apps being written solely for proprietary platforms such as Facebook and that was good to hear.

Update: An Emily Litella-esque "never mind"--on May 16, 2008 it was announced that Microsoft is partnering with the "child laptop" program and that the computers will be running Windows XP.

Update, 2011: The Rhizome link has been changed to http://rhizome.org/editorial/2008/apr/28/video-of-futures-of-the-internet-panel/