Maciej is relatively wrong

by Michael Ruggiero

Reading Maciej’s Web Design: the First 100 Years I was struck by a particular passage:

The engine is revving faster and faster, we can see that the accelerator is pegged, but somehow the view out the window never changes.

I was reminded of an essay by Isaac Asimov called “The Relativity of Wrong”. In the essay, Asimov related his gratitude for the scientific questions that got answered in the twentieth century, but cautioned that what appears “correct” to us is only relatively less inaccurate than it was a generation before.

Even when a new theory seems to represent a revolution, it usually arises out of small refinements. If something more than a small refinement were needed, then the old theory would never have endured.

Maciej bemoans Silicon Valley techno-utopianism, the tendency to see all technological progress as a reflection of human progress, and corresponding anxiety that technologically-driven culture has not yielded jet-packs. He points to the fact that a lot of the dreams of utopians like Kurzweil and Andreesen — e.g. immortality, greater market efficiencies — are at odds with the turn-of-the-21st-century’s greatest source of innovation, a free and open internet.

But that seems more wrong than right to me. I recall an argument with a friend back in the nineties. He said that the internet was “free and open exchange,” but I countered that although it “seemed” free, it was, in fact, routed over a telephone line owned by a private utility. “They could turn you off at any time.”

He disagreed; my claim had nothing to do with the freedom of packets. “The packets are moving; saying that you own a river doesn’t mean you own the water in that river.”

Which may be technically true, but ultimately meaningless. Take Netflix’s 35% of internet traffic There’s nothing free or collaborative about Netflix; it’s people watching reruns and B movies, and, not coincidentally, original programming from Netflix. Netflix is a movie/TV studio, offering franchise material to a market that wants it. Was there any doubt that the internet would be the next medium of corporate transmission? The utopians like Maciej seen more wrong than right in their dream of a free and open exchange