Over the years I’ve started to think harder about being “connected” by thinking harder about what it means not to be “connected”. By this I do not mean the traditional debate about the digital haves versus the digital have-nots, a discussion that soon goes down rabbitholes of economics-meets-education. By this I do not mean the traditional debate about net neutrality and cheap bits and expensive bits and who will pay, that’s another discussion that soon goes down the same rabbitholes, but with a twist of politics as well.
I mean something else altogether.
Today, I was sitting quietly in an exhibit that looked like a theatre in the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (known locally as MAMbo), waiting to see what happened next. I was the only person in this theatre-within-a-museum at the time. And what happened next was this. Two people, a man and a woman, started talking about their experiences of being blind. They talked about the difference between being blind from birth and becoming blind after having normal sight for a while. They talked about the role that memory played in that second instance, the memory of sight. How it became a frame of reference for many things later. How that memory decayed. How it played tricks.
And something about the way they spoke made me think of how kids today perceive being connected, particularly in the West, but increasingly in India and China as well.
You see, I think connectivity, particularly ubiquitous always-on mobile connectivity, can make a real difference in terms of health, education and welfare, and that it can make a difference today. The days of “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” and “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home” are long gone. Today the BRICS have bricks in their hands, the bricks are getting smaller and they’re always on.
Too often, when people try and make this point, the objections are common and predictable. “You don’t get it, these people need food first. They’re starving.”. And so the debate about connectivity gets waylaid. Ironically, this is often done by people who then pump up the volume about the importance of biofuels in solving the energy crisis…. the same biofuels that then drive grain prices up and make staple food harder to afford for many people…..but that’s another debate.
All I was thinking was this. Is connectivity becoming like sight and hearing and speech and mobility? And if so what does that mean for the endless debates we appear to be having about what the internet and the web are?
[An aside. If I take this analogy in reverse, I land up in strange places. Told you I was confused. Like a year ago I spotted David Beckham at the Diana concert. With my bare eyes. Was I somehow trammelling over his image rights as a result? Should my eyes be cut out in order to feed the God of DRM? That’s the way a lot of DRM logic appears to me.]