2010 : HOW IS THE INTERNET CHANGING THE WAY YOU THINK?

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Editor, The Feuilleton (Arts and Essays), of the German Daily Newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich
THE GREATEST OF ALL TRAITS: THE INTERNET HAS BECOME INHERENTLY BORING

I think faster now. The Internet has somewhat freed me — of some of 20th century's burdens. The burden of commuting. The burden of coordinating communication. The burden of traditional literacy. I don't think the Internet would be of much use, if hadn't carried those burdens to excess all through my life. If speeding up thinking continually constitutes changing the way I think though, the Internet has done a marvelous job.

I wasn't an early adaptor, but the process started early. I didn't quite understand yet what would come upon us, when Marvin Minsky told me one afternoon in 1989 at MIT's Media Lab the most important trait of a computer wouldn't be it's power, but what it would be connected to. A couple of years later I stumbled upon the cyberpunk scene in San Francisco. People were popping smart drugs (which didn't do anything), Timothy Leary declared virtual reality the next psychedelics (which never panned out), Todd Rundgren warned of a coming overabundance of creative work without a parallel rise in great ideas (which is now reflected in the laments about the rise of the amateur). It was still the old underground running the new emerging culture. This new culture was driven by thought rather than art though. It's also where I met Cliff Figallo who ran a virtual community called The Well. He introduced me to John Perry Barlow who had just started a foundation called the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The name said it all. There was a new frontier.

It would still take me a few more years to grasp. One stifling evening in a rented apartment in downtown Dakar my photographer and me disassembled a phone line and a modem to circumvent some incompatible jacks and to get our laptop to dial up some node in Paris. It probably saved us a good week of research in the field. Now my thinking started to take on the speed I had sensed in Boston and San Francisco. Continually freeing me of the aforementioned burdens, it has allowed me to focus even more on the tasks expected of me as a journalist — find context, meaning and a way to communicate complex topics in the simplest of ways.

One important development that has allowed this to happen is that the possibly greatest of all traits the Internet has developed over the past few years is that it has become inherently boring. Gone are the adventurous days of using a pocket knife to log onto Paris from Africa. Even in remote place of this planet logging onto the Net means merely turning on your machine. This paradigm reigns all through the Web. Twitter is one of the simplest Internet applications ever developed. Still it has sped up my thinking in ever more ways. Facebook in itself is dull, but it has created new networks not possible before. Integrating all media into a blog has become so easy, grammar school kids can do it, so that freeform forum has become a great place to test out new possibilities. I don't think about the Internet anymore. I just use it.

All this might not constitute a change in thinking though. I haven't changed my mind or my convictions because of the Internet. I haven't had any epiphanies while sitting in front of a screen. The Internet so far has not given me no memorable experiences, although it might have helped to usher some along. It has always been people, places and experiences that have changed the way I think and provided me with a wide variety of memorable experiences.