How has the Internet changed the way you think?

BRIAN ENO [Artist; Composer; Recording Producer: U2, Cold Play, Talking Heads, Paul Simon; Recording Artist]

I notice that some radical social experiments which would have seemed Utopian to even the most idealistic anarchist 50 years ago are now working smoothly and without much fuss. Among these are open source development, shareware and freeware, Wikipedia, MoveOn, and UK Citizens Online Democracy.

I notice that the Net didn’t free the world in quite the way we expected — repressive regimes can shut it down, and liberal ones can use it as a propaganda tool. On the upside, I notice that the variable trustworthiness of the Net has made people more sceptical about the information they get from all other media.

I notice that I now digest my knowledge as a patchwork drawn from a wider range of sources than I used to. I notice too that I am less inclined to look for joined-up finished narratives and more inclined to make my own collage from what I can find. I notice that I read books more cursorily — scanning them in the same way that I scan the Net — ‘bookmarking’ them.

I notice that the turn-of-the-century dream of Professor Darryl Macer to make a map of all the world’s concepts is coming true autonomously — in the form of the Net.

I notice that I correspond with more people but at less depth. I notice that it is possible to have intimate relationships that exist only on the Net — that have little or no physical component. I notice that it is even possible to engage in complex social projects — such as making music — without ever meeting your collaborators. I am unconvinced of the value of these.

I notice that the idea of ‘community’ has changed — whereas that term used to connote some sort of physical and geographical connectedness between people, it can now mean ‘the exercise of any shared interest’. I notice that I now belong to hundreds of communities — the community of people interested in active democracy, the community of people interested in synthesizers, in climate change, in Tommy Cooper jokes, in copyright law, in acapella singing, in loudspeakers, in pragmatist philosophy, in evolution theory, and so on.

I notice that the desire for community is sufficiently strong for millions of people to belong to entirely fictional communities such as Second Life and World of Warcraft. I worry that this may be at the expense of First Life.

I notice that more of my time is spent in words and language — because that is the currency of the Net — than it was before. My notebooks take longer to fill. I notice that I mourn the passing of the fax machine, a more personal communication tool than email because it allowed the use of drawing and handwriting. I notice that my mind has reset to being primarily linguistic rather than, for example, visual.

I notice that the idea of ‘expert’ has changed. An expert used to be ‘somebody with access to special information’. Now, since so much information is equally available to everyone, the idea of ‘expert’ becomes ‘somebody with a better way of interpreting’. Judgement has replaced access.

I notice that I have become a slave to connectedness — that I check my email several times a day, that I worry about the heap of unsolicited and unanswered mail in my inbox. I notice that I find it hard to get a whole morning of uninterrupted thinking. I notice that I am expected to answer emails immediately, and that it is difficult not to. I notice that as a result I am more impulsive.

I notice that I more often give money in response to appeals made on the Net. I notice that ‘memes’ can now spread like virulent infections through the vector of the Net, and that this isn’t always good.

I notice that I sometimes sign petitions about things I don’t really understand because it is easy. I assume that this kind of irresponsibility is widespread.

I notice that everything the Net displaces reappears somewhere else in a modified form. For example, musicians used to tour to promote their records, but, since records stopped making much money due to illegal downloads, they now make records to promote their tours. Bookstores with staff who know about books and record stores with staff who know about music are becoming more common.

I notice that, as the Net provides free or cheap versions of things, ‘the authentic experience’ — the singular experience enjoyed without mediation — becomes more valuable. I notice that more attention is given by creators to the aspects of their work that can’t be duplicated. The ‘authentic’ has replaced the reproducible.

I notice that almost all of us haven’t thought about the chaos that would ensue if the Net collapsed.

I notice that my daily life has been changed more by my mobile phone than by the Internet.