This morning’s Observer column.
If I’ve learned one thing from watching the internet over two decades, it’s this: prediction is futile. The reason is laughably simple: the network’s architecture and lack of central control effectively make it a global surprise-generation machine. And since its inception, it has enabled disruptive innovation at a blistering pace.
This doesn’t stop people making predictions, though. In fact, ever since the web went mainstream in 1993 there has been a constant stream of what computer scientist John Seely Brown calls “endism” – assertions that some new technology presages the termination of some revered practice, not to mention the end of civilisation as we know it. The prediction that online news means the death of newspapers, for example, is almost as old as the web. More recent examples include Wired’s announcement of the imminent death of the web at the hands of iPhone apps and Nicholas Carr’s assertion that ubiquitous networking heralds the end of contemplative reading.
The problem with endism is that it’s intrinsically simplistic…