The promise of the web when it was first kicked around at CERN and DARPA was to create a decentralized exchange of information. I think the grand power of that idea is that insight can come from literally anywhere. People with differing ideas and backgrounds can test their theories against the world, and at the end of it all: may the best idea win. That's powerful. The fact that the information can be looked at by so many different kinds of people from anywhere on Earth is the Internet's true power, and it's the source of my fascination with it. Right now a little kid can browse the raw data coming from the Large Hadron Particle Collider, he can search the stars for signals of alien life with the SETI project. Anyone can discover the next world-changing breakthrough. That's the point of the Internet.
Also, I think the contribution of search engines in simplifying the research process can't be under estimated. It gives me, and everybody else, the ability to conduct research instantly on our own terms. It's a tremendous leap from what I had to do 10 years ago to find anything out, from knowing who my interview subjects are to where I can get the best BLT in Hollywood, and still, I think the web is in it's infancy. The great hubs of information we've constructed, and the tools to traverse them, like Google, Wikipedia, and Facebook, are only going to get deeper and more resonant as we learn how to communicate over them more effectively. When our collective sources of knowledge improve, we will be better for it and our lives will be more meaningful. Just think about what we can do when these tools are applied to the world's of medicine, science, and art. I can't wait to see what a world full of instant knowledge and open inquiry will bring.
Today, the Internet permeates pretty much all of my thoughts and actions. I access it with my phone, my computer, at home, at work. It gives me untold quantities of new knowledge, inspiration, the ability to connect. I interact with people all over the world from different fields and walks of life, and I see myself and others becoming interconnected hubs of information that the full range of human experience passes through. With the Internet, I feel like I am never truly alone, with the very ends of the Earth a few clicks away.
I was talking with George Whiteshead not long ago about the way to approach innovation. Almost as an aside he said that the only way to make advances was to have five different strategies in the hopes that one would work out. Well the Internet is a place where I can pick from the sum of all strategies people have tried out beforehand, and if I think of something new, I can put it up there to share with the world.
I was at the Mayo clinic doing a film project on a rare condition called NMO. I heard the story about how the diagnostic test for this condition was discovered by accident. An MS doctor was speaking at a symposium and a Cancer researcher heard his results. This moment, by accident, led to the creation of the test. To me that's not an accident at all. It happened because someone, maybe the Mayo brothers themselves, put in place a system - making the symposium an event that disparate researchers and physicians would attend. The insight came because the platform made it possible for these people and ideas to come together and that made possible a better level of understanding, and so on and so forth.
When I was a child I learned from looking at the world and reading books. The knowledge I craved was hidden away. Much was secret and unavailable. In my youth, you had to dig deep and explore to find what you were looking for, and often what you wanted was locked up and out of reach. To get from Jack Kerouac to Hank Williams to the pentatonic scale used to be quite a journey. Now, it can happen in an instant. Some people would say that the old way was good thing, I disagree.