I was reading an article the other day and someone posed a question much like the title of this post, and of course it sent my mind off into a catastrophe of ideas. In the Matrix movies the Internet became an entity with human qualities – for example, it became aware of itself enough to exhibit a will to live, dominate, and control its existence. Those qualities seem to be what many humans are driven by today. It really is not that interesting to me to speculate on when, or if, the Internet one day fulfills the prophecy of the Matrix (or the Terminator Series) because I suspect the fact that we know this could be an issue will assure we never let the machines gain complete control over us. With that said, one has to wonder how much control they already have when my kids get the shakes whenever they are more than 20 ft. from their iPhones.
Before we get all science fiction infected, I will simply address the question in the title, "what would the Internet be like if it was a person?" As I wrote this blog, it struck me that the Internet is the way it is because we are constructing it to be exactly the way we want it. Maybe not the way each one of us wants it, but certainly the way the majority desires. It represents us collectively – probably the most democratic thing ever invented, so none of its human characteristics should surprise us. When I personalize the Web (hereafter referred to Netsy) I don’t really imagine it as a male or female, just a unisex human being that has billions of friends.
Netsy wants to be friends with everyone on the earth. No one should be left out – the more connections the better. Everything is better with a Web based crowd that includes every human being, and Netsy wants to be VERY close friends with all of us. The more known about us the better because how can we be good friends without understanding each others likes, dislikes, locations, preferences, and conversations (we will hit privacy later.) Part of being a great friend is being available 24/7 for each other, and Netsy sure works hard to be always available, and really wants you to be available 24/7 as well. After all, what are friends for…
You must be impressed with Netsy’s memory because very little is ever forgotten. Outside of a serious data storage disaster, almost everything you have ever said, done, or shared with Netsy is stored in the memory banks. Even things you ask to be deleted are actually just hidden from your view. Netsy finds it valuable to remember everything because if could be important later, maybe not to you, but surely to someone. In fact, lots of organizations will pay her/him for access to the huge memory store Netsy nurtures so carefully. Long after you have forgotten details of purchases you made together, conversations you have had, pictures you have shared, etc., your good friend will be able to pull them back for you – or someone else.
The reality is friends don’t always see eye to eye, and one thing that Netsy does that many people do not appreciate is the lack of an ability to keep things secret. Netsy really does not believe in privacy. Oh, promises will be made of security and privacy, but depending on who asks, or who is paying, Netsy cannot really resist giving up your most personal information. I love Netsy as much as the next person, but we have to be realistic, nothing is safe, and likely never will be as long as governments and profit making companies control the Net. But, hey, privacy is over rated right? Who cares if people know what I look at on the Web, where I am, who I talk to, what I buy, or what I read.
As friendly and easygoing as Netsy is, there is no question that he/she wants more power, speed and functionality. Being a teenager (basically) Netsy craves growth and is frankly addicted to adding power and functionality daily. Where it will stop, no one knows, yet we can be assured that Netsy has no intention of cooling of the growth. For my part, I have prospered just from being friends with Netsy and the closer I get, the more shared power I tap into just from the intimacy of our relationship. I look at it a bit like being friends with Brad Pitt. I hope he just keeps getting bigger and more powerful because that just helps me (disclaimer, that is just a metaphor, I don’t know Brad Pitt.) I guess the blessing in all of this is that Netsy rarely forces anything on me, he/she just seeks to be a really powerful friend with benefits and I can self-select all I can handle.
One thing that scares me a little about Netsy is her/his desire for more autonomy and automation. Netsy is constantly offering, or just plain forcing, an integration of her skills into our relationship, and ergo, into my life. This includes making decisions for me that hopefully free me from thinking about little details he/she can really handle on my behalf. Netsy filters search results I get automatically, and helps me discover things at my physical location because he/she knows where I am and tries to be helpful by providing location information for me – including telling my friends (and others) where I am – automatically. In fact Netsy helps me out in so many automated ways I am never really sure when that help is being provided. I guess we just have to trust that Netsy has our best interests in mind. Yet, what do we do if we do want all that automated "help?"
Just a couple of weeks ago I saw an impressive thing. Netsy stood up the government when they wanted to enact legislation aimed at the issue of copyright violation. Netsy has some friends that don’t always follow the rules, and the government thought they should decide who Netsy befriends, and who gets shunned. Netsy freaked at the thought and the government blinked and backed down. The same way they back down when they talk about taxing Netsy. Seriously, should someone as powerful as Netsy really have to pay taxes? Some governments even try to tell Netsy who to communicate with and on what subjects, but many of Netsy’s friends have learned how to meet with him/her on the sly. Netsy really is not impressed with governments and I kind of like that.
I have to admit, Netsy is a pretty powerful buddy to have, and like all powerful people, there are plusses and minuses to the relationship. This I know, I first met Netsy in the mid 90’s when he/she was just a babe. It is scary, yet intriguing, to think what the relationship will look like in another fifteen years!
Scott Klososky is one of the first successful Internet entrepreneurs and is a highly sought-after technology and future trends speaker. You can read this article and others on Scott's blog Technology Story.