January 26, 2006

Egoism Is Not the Only Sin

TCS has an article talking down manifestos and romanticism. This is all well and good and cold water does need to be dumped on an absurdly large number of "head in the clouds" scatter brains. Unfortunately, he picks a poor example, the idea that the Internet has created a different enough experience that we've got something truly new going on. In fact the Internet is something new, something different in the form of orders of magnitude cheaper information storage and transmission. This radical change means that the information stream is significantly harder to reduce and filter than it is to just let pass. The larger that gap gets, the more behavior is going to go on that is useless or annoying to the powers that be but just isn't worth squashing. This is important because it creates a growing gap between contol regimes, reminiscent of the old medieval "free cities" that escaped feudal restrictions and eventually led to the downfall of the system.

Anyway, here's my comment.

With the Internet suite of technologies the cost (both monetary and nonmonetary) of transmitting and storing information has been lowered by orders of magnitude. Whenever you lop a few zeros of any cost, odd things happen. When the commodity being altered is as widespread and useful as information, the odd things that happen filter throughout society and have large impacts everywhere.

While it is true that the volume of traffic devoted to porn is quite high, this says more about the failure of moral guardians in our various societies than anything about the Internet. The only thing that the Internet is doing is lowering costs to transmit/store and increasing the ability to search out whatever you want in comfortable pseudonymity.

Radically reducing costs increases the amount of unimportant things committed to information systems. Past a certain point, it's more expensive to sort than to just store it all.

This virtual society of abundance leads to a quest for attention, influence, and reputation, Things that are not affected by the lowered costs of the Internet. There are tens of millions of blogs but how many operate at the level of an Instapundit or Daily Kos? The long tail of blogs create the bulk of the traffic but they have no influence, no reputation to speak of. They are generally unimportant unless they consistently offer good content at which point they rise in the standings and start to be widely read. The same power law phenomenon that affect blogs affect most other communities on the 'Net.

The writer sees unfamiliar rules presented in insider shorthand and imagines there are no rules at all. I recommend a decent course of ESR. Homesteading the Noosphere is especially apropos.
Posted by TMLutas at January 26, 2006 12:28 PM