The Night Watch

In watching Kevin Kelly’s TED Talk, The next 5,000 days of the web, a number of uncharitable thoughts came to mind.

The first is that, even for late 2007, much of what Kelly has to say is not that earth-shattering nor even that instructive. Almost as if he is explaining something out loud to himself that those who follow technology, even tangentially, had pretty much come to understand – the “Internet of Things” was, after all, coined by Kevin Ashton at Proctor & Gamble back in 1999. As Kelly finishes with “One machine; the web is its OS; all screens look into the One; no bits live outside the web; let the One read it; the One is us”, I am silently mouthing “The Matrix”, only to subsequently discover from Kelly’s bio that his 1994 book “Out Of Control” had been required reading for the 1999 film’s actors. Mea culpa. Fortunately the Wachowski brothers (at least before “reloading”) were still able to fashion a stylish, thought-provoking view of a simulated reality in a dystopian future.

Kelly casually notes that the price of total personalization is total transparency. It is a theme he returns to in a 2011 L.A. Times interview, and one I find disquieting. It is hardly a giant leap from there to Mae Holland’s insistence in “The Circle” that “privacy is theft”. In that same L.A. Times interview Kelly also, glibly I feel, dismisses creative professionals and proclaims that “we are all creators”.

Andrew Keen

Andrew Keen
Source: The Guardian

Like Walpole I am a believer in serendipity, and on the day I watched the Kelly TED Talk, the Guardian published an interview with Andrew Keen about his latest polemic “The Internet Is Not The Answer”. A Tech Weekly podcast of an Aleks Krotoski interview with Keen is also online. The contrarian in me identifies with Keen. In brief he believes the internet has become largely about money and monopolies. Keen, a self-confessed content snob who was critical of user-generated media in “The Cult Of The Amateur”, expresses grave concern for the impact of the “culture of free” on creative professionals. In decrying the increasingly anti-social nature of social media he mentions the Twitter shaming of Justine Sacco, the subject of an excellent New York Times article.

Kevin Kelly’s notion of handheld devices as merely windows into the “One” machine reminded me of this:

The Night Watch

Source: Ken Sweeney (via Twitter)

Depressing, but fortunately technology also provides the antidote with this superb BBC piece about the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum, including the installation of “The Night Watch”:

Second Thoughts: Language

I found Kelly’s TED Talk a tad too self-referential. Not unwarranted perhaps for the former executive editor of “Wired” magazine, but then I read that he graduated to “Senior Maverick” upon relinquishing the editorial post, a title that like “Digital Prophet” and “Thought Leader” has neither meaning nor value; I hope it was at least bestowed by others. I recollect a former boss publicly styling himself as “Pragmatic Visionary”; I saw scant evidence of either but I confess I may not have looked hard enough.
Technology is replete with such puffery and eschews the “simple, honest, direct language” that George Carlin speaks of in:

when describing how two-syllable “Shell-shock” (World War I) morphed into eight-syllable “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (Vietnam) by way of “Battle Fatigue” (World War II) and “Operational Exhaustion” (Korea). Thus, as Carlin bemoans, is pain buried beneath jargon and humanity lost to sterility.