I am enjoying reading Kevin Kelly’s new book The Inevitable. It does a good job of laying out the consequences of technological change in twelve main themes. The themes are very familiar, have formed the basis of my own work, and are still inspiring. I know, or have met, most of the people he mentions in the book, from Tim Berners Lee to Jimmy Wales, Jochai Benkler to Brewster Kale. Smart people doing good things.
But reading it I find myself swinging wildly between feeling reinvigorated and affirmed – and tired and depressed. Why depressed? I met most of these world changers more than a decade ago. Their ideas, which still feel revolutionary, are glacial in their impact. There is a degree to which the book feels like banging on about old news, rehashing ideas that have missed their chance.
Most people still have no grasp of what is happening around them and to them. They are unaware of ideas that are shaping our world, and in many cases don’t care. The utopian idealism of the early days of the web is looking tarnished and naïve. Commercial interests have slowed, corrupted, or assimilated many of the more potent innovations that we got so excited about.
It is so import to remember that we are just getting started. Kevin talks in terms of thirty year horizons and most of you will have heard me saying that it will be fifty years before we fully understand the true impact of the internet. This is why it is important that Kevin wrote the book. It’s why I do the work I do.
On a good day I do believe that what he describes is inevitable – just not imminent. Those of us still excited about changing the world have to be in it for the long game. We have to be patient and yet at the same time help others to catch up. We have to learn to go fast and slow.
No one said that the inevitable was easy!