I Do Not Matter, And Neither Do You.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The Internet has revealed that normal humans are way less predictable than we thought.
My favorite example of this is a brief time-travel trip to 1993, where you’re in the headquarters of Microsoft – the biggest software company on the goddamned planet.  They control 90% of all operating systems, they control 95% of the word processing and spreadsheet market, and they have just decided to ram their bulk into the Encyclopedia Britannica and hip-bump it off the planet.
That’s right, bitches: Encarta is here.  Tremble.  Microsoft’s about to fling all of its mighty resources at it…
…and it is your job to tell them not to bother.
Why?  Well, imagine sitting before Bill Gates in 1993 and saying, “Look, you’re gonna give it your best shot paying researchers to create content for you, but, uh, as it turns out, people would prefer to work for free.  I know, crazy, but thousands of people will love writing huge-ass entries that will wallop your little video-clips in terms of quality and up-to-dateness.  And yeah, you’d probably argue that trolls would deface that in a New York Minute, but hey.  They’ll be an issue, but there will be more loyal people guarding their fiefdoms of Wal-Mart and abortion entries than there will be trolls.  They’ll work harder than anyone you could possibly hire with all your money.  And by the mid-2000s, Encarta will be a joke.”
You can see how that wouldn’t go over well.  But that’s how the Internet works, man.  These words you’re reading?  Published entirely thanks to the benefit of open-source software, Apache and mySQL, a piece of web server that’s ridiculously complex and stable and used nearly everywhere, yet staffed almost entirely by volunteers.
And here’s the crazy bit: I don’t know anyone who volunteers time on that.
I mention this because the repeating motif of complaints from yesterday’s theorizing on the future of news was entirely “I”-centered: I wouldn’t contribute news.  I didn’t see anything interesting on my feed.  I wouldn’t be interested in that.
That’s the thing: you don’t have to be, and yet it can happen anyway.  The question is not “you,” but rather “Would enough other maniacs want to do this?”
What the Internet has shown is that if you bring enough people into the same space, a significant submass of those people can create profound change.  As I said, I don’t know anyone who contributes patches to Apache.  But I use it daily.  Because it works.  And Apache is used on about 80% of web servers, edging Microsoft out of the business yet again.
No, maybe you don’t use Twitter, or didn’t see any good news on it… But a lot of people did.  And those people, even if you don’t know a goddamned one of them, even if you don’t think Twitter is worth anything, are still causing news corporations to go, “Crap, we’re slow compared to this onslaught, how can we transform ourselves to be more relevant?”
Are the majority of people getting their news from the Internet?  No!  Is that enough to fuck newspapers up heavily, and to force CNN to start acting in more Internet-friendly ways?  Absolutely.  The future does not require everyone to wear those snazzy silver suits and shave their heads, but if enough people do it then it’ll hit the fashion industry, and perhaps to the point of collapse.  It’s not about everyone getting on board, but enough.
When you imagine the future, you have to imagine more than just your preferences.  Because if I did that, I’d imagine a world free from Instant Messaging, which I absolutely loathe, it’s distracting, it bothers me, I never ever want to do it, and every time someone puts up a “bleep” when I’m trying to write or program I want to throttle them no matter how helpful they’re being. If I did that, I’d imagine a world free from Twitter, where everyone wanted to write big gouty blog-posts like this and ramble on, and not realize that what most people have to say can, yes, fit in a Facebook “How ya doing?” box with room to spare.
Yet when I think about what the world will become, I must be bigger than myself.  I must realize that people want this feature, and may want more of it, and how is that going to impact?  I’m going to be wrong a lot, of course… but holding the world to your preferences is no longer a possible thing for futurists.  You must look around, and see what others are doing, and view the other subcultures that are evolving and creating and building….
…and it’ll tell you that you’re wrong.  Would I contribute to Wikipedia?  Hell no.  I’d find that tedious.  As would, say, 49 out of 50 people.  But to ignore that 50th person’s pleasure is to be Bill Gates, sinking millions into a project meant to capture the future and instead becoming a relic of the past.
That’s the fun of riding the future.  Realizing that it’s not just you, but everybody.

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