Jack Uldrich
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Can the Internet Help Us Unlearn?

Posted in Culture, Future, Internet

Future-internet  "If this is the information age, what are we so well-informed about?" So asks David Gelernter is this excellent essay in Edge entitled, Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously

Rather than rehash Gelernter's entire article, I just want to highlight a few key concepts:

1. To date, the Internet has been about increasing the quantity of information. To get to the next level, it must concern itself with the quality of information.

2. To do this, Gelernter suggests "turning Cyberspace on its side, so that time instead of space is the main axis." As a metaphor, he likens today's websites to a stained-glass window which has many panels leaded together. What the Internet must become is a rushing flow of fresh information that can nurture new ways of thinking.

3. To this end, Gelertner argues the Internet of the future "can help us change our ways of thinking."

4. In order to do this, however, the Internet move from away from it's "culture of nowness." As Gelertner suggests the Internet's ability to focus like a laser on the "now" has a couple of unhealthy implications. First, a focus on "now" prevents many people from learning more about "then." The current Internet is also "a machine for reinforcing our prejudices." Sure, people can use it to find ten different perspectives on a story but, instead, many of us use it to review the same story from ten like-minded people. 

Before Gelernter concludes with an optimistic vision of the Internet (which he says is "The best is yet to be"), he reminds his audience that "We would be fools to doubt our ignorance."

As someone who is focused on unlearning, I think it is wonderful reminder that we must all have some intellectual humility. Or, as John Brockman writes in the introduction to the article, "Many of the people that desperately need to know, don't even know that they don't know."

What don't you know about the Internet of the future and what might you have to unlearn in order to embrace the fullness of its future potential?



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