Of genies and bottles and wishing for shoehorns

Cartoon courtesy the ’09 archives of the LA Free Press

How much do you make? Have you ever contemplated suicide? Are you now or have you ever been…? Are you aware of the fact…? I have here before me… […]information devices for universal, tyrannical womb-to-tomb surveillance are causing a very serious dilemma between our claim to privacy and the community’s need to know. The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions — the patterns of mechanistic technologies — are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous […]information retrieval, by the […] computerised dossier bank— that one big gossip column that is unforgiving, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early “mistakes”. We have already reached a point where remedial control, born out of knowledge of media and their total effects on all of us, must be exerted. How shall the new environment be programmed now that we have come so involved with each other, now that all of us have become the unwitting work force for social change?

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter — and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

By now some of you would have recognised some of the words above. They form part of the opening paragraphs of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Written all of thirteen years ago, in 1999. A very long time ago.

You’ve read Cluetrain, but you don’t recognise the first paragraph? Not surprising. It’s not from Cluetrain. It was written well before Cluetrain. Thirty-two years before Cluetrain, in fact. By Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore in The Medium is The Massage. A very very long time ago, in 1967.

The wires have been buzzing these past few days, with dozens of stories about openness and closedness, about walled gardens and the open web, about HTML5 apps versus mobile apps, about the app internet, about someone’s turn to be evil, in this case Google. [Sometimes, at conferences, I wake people up by saying “it took IBM 40 years to become evil; Microsoft took 20; Google 10; Facebook 5; Twitter 2.5. But that’s for another post some other day].

This post has a simple message.

It’s over.

We can all argue till the end of time about how many angels can dance on top of a native app, but it won’t change a thing.

It’s over.

We can debate about whether the “app internet” will destroy the Net, or whether the internet will “route around obstacles” as it is wont to do. It won’t change a thing.

It’s over.

We can point fingers at Facebook or Google or Apple or Amazon and find ways of convincing ourselves that their particular brand of evil signals the end of the world as we know it, but it won’t change a thing.

It’s over.

Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read what people are saying. So do read the recent Pew Internet report on The Future of Apps and Web if you want to understand what’s happening in that space. Do read GigaOm’s Cloud Services and The New Platform Wars if you want to be informed about that particular aspect. Do read Gizmodo’s The Case Against Google if you want to learn more about why all this kerfuffle is coming up now. And while you’re at it, read Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future Of The Internet and How To Stop It. Don’t stop there, make sure you read The Master Switch by Tim Wu; and while you’re at it, please ensure you include Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble.

These are all good articles and books; I’ve read them all, and I’ve learnt from them all. Learnt. But not worried.

Because it’s over.

No going back.

People are empowered now; they’re connected, not channelled, as I wrote in the Kernel For This Blog seven years ago.

They will choose whom they spend time with, what they spend time on. They will choose which devices they use, when, where, how; they will choose how they are connected and for how long; they will choose whom they trust with what they make, and whom they trust with what their friends make. They will choose what they pay for, how, to whom and why.

They will choose.

And when someone tries to stop them, they will choose to let that someone know what they think. Individually and collectively. Severally and jointly. Vocally. Very vocally.

So while the kerfuffle continues unabated, I’m spending time reading up on other things. Things you may prefer to read.

Things like Open Garden.

Imagine, instead, if all of the smartphones in any location could use their formidable processing power to share access to the Internet. The result would be an open garden – one without walls. Our handsets would be free to guide each other to the nearest available Internet offramp, regardless of whether it’s a wifi hotspot, a 4G base station or a femtocell.

Things like Ringmark.

The Ringmark test suite has been developed by Facebook and Bocoup, with a huge debt to prior research from the web community including projects like Modenizr, caniuse, Are We Playing Yet, and the W3C tests. We will be open-sourcing Ringmark in the coming weeks. Eventually, we hope to contribute Ringmark to the Core Mobile Web Platform Community Group, a W3C community group tasked with creating mobile browser standards and testing tools that will make the mobile web easier to build on and support.

Life has not been easy for incumbents in traditional “publishing” industries: books, magazines, film, television, music, software, they’ve all been affected. Radically. And irreversibly.

Attempts to re-create the lock-ins of the past are understandable, even predictable. Although it does make me smile when Microsoft comes along and claims the answer to the “end of software”: hybrid clouds. It sort of even makes sense in a Soockholm-Syndrome way:

If you’re a prisoner, then even limited parole looks like freedom.

You can’t blame the monopolists. Native apps and app stores turned out to be runaway successes; the mobile web exacerbated this success; and suddenly they thought Mummy was right, everything was going to be all right.


The genie is out of the bottle.

Elvis has left the building.




5 thoughts on “Of genies and bottles and wishing for shoehorns”

  1. Over and No going back – but what about Consigliere / Caporegimes…

    information flow follows laws of nature, then how come, Yahoo patent claims over Facebook?

    Justice Breyer has, “endorsed bright-line prohibition against patenting laws of nature, mathematical formulas and the like” – leaving cloud/PaaS information flow subject to…?


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