The future of the net? Wait and see

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After a pause and reflection I confess I’m still mighty confused as to the future of media and democracy. There were some mind-spinningly smart talks by some awfully clever people at Media Re:Public in LA (where I’ve spent the last four days), but my main takeaway is that no-one’s really sure what the future holds (no surprise there), but that most people are anxious.

The three speakers whose talks still stick most in my mind are Manuel Castells, David Weinberger and John Kelly.

For Manuel Castells things appear to look rather bleak (as per blog below). He views our current liberty on the net as a brief hiatus, a short interval of (mostly) benign chaos that will soon be controlled, once corporations (and governments?) work out how to ‘commoditize our freedom’ (his phrase not mine).

David Weinberger, though less pessimistic, raised fascinating questions about how one deals – or in most cases doesn’t deal – with a world of information abundance. For him (and this idea appears to be in growing vogue), we will increasingly let the world come to us – via our email inbox – rather then going out to meet it. The vast majority of people will find it easier and quicker to use the ‘social networks’ that already exist in their Outlook address book (or Googlemail contacts) then construct new ones via Facebook or LinkedIn.

John Kelly wanted to describe the present rather than explain the future. He’s spent a while (years?) creating a methodology to map the blogosphere (you can see examples at the website Morningside Analytics). Based on these dot maps, or ‘Kellygrams’ as his colleagues call them, western democratic society is still relatively cohesive (as you can see from the links between the dots and the similar subjects the bloggers talk about) – certainly when compared to the Russian, Iranian or Chinese blogospheres.

Looking at others who have written about the event (and there’s no shortage – try Richard Sambrook, Doc Searls, Neil McIntosh, Charlie Beckett, David Cohn, David Weinberger, or Ethan Zuckerman) I’m comforted that they are still trying to make sense of what they heard too. There seems to be a fantastically eclectic mix of reportage, confusion, wonder, and scepticism amongst the blogs.

I particularly like the fact that it’s the Brits who feel the Americans did not take enough notice of the market.

But for all that was said in LA, the most salient message was that our contemporary media landscape is still remarkably fluid. If you want to make an impact, now’s the time to do it.

Written by Martin Moore

March 31st, 2008 at 1:42 pm

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