I’m working on a talk that asks why our greatest institutions have trembled, if not shattered, before the tiny silver hammer of the hyperlink. One tap and, boom, down come newspapers, the recording industry, traditional encyclopedias… Why?
I recognize there are many ways of explaining any complex event. When it comes to understanding the rise of the Net, I tend to pay insufficient attention to economic explanations and to historic explanations based around large players. I’m at doing the opposite of justifying that inattention; I’m copping to it. I tend instead to look first at the Net as a communications medium, and see the changes in light of how what moves onto the Net takes on the properties of the Internet’s sort of network: loose, huge, center-less, without shape, etc.
But, then you have to ask why we flocked to that sort of medium. Why did it seem so inviting? Again, there are multiple explanations, and we need them all. But, perhaps because of some undiagnosable quirk, I tend to understand this in terms of our mental model of who we are and how we live together. My explanatory model hits rock bottom (possibly in both senses) when I see the new network model as more closely fitting what (I believe) we’ve known all along: we are more social than the old model thought, the world is more interesting than the old model thought, we are more fallible and confused than the old model wanted us to believe.
(Now that I think of it, that’s pretty much what my book Small Pieces Loosely Joined was about. So, eight years later, to my surprise, I still basically agree with myself!)
My preference for understanding-based explanations undoubtedly reflects my own personality and unexplored beliefs. I don’t believe there is one bedrock that is bedrockier than all the others.