I am in, what I will broadly call, The Internet Business.
If you’re in the business, what you hear a lot is that real-time and social (and geo) are the future. Recently I heard this notion expressed as (paraphrasing, because I forget exactly where I read it):
Google and the other search engines are becoming irrelevant because, in the future, you won’t get most of your information from web pages, but you’ll get it from other people via social networks.
The prototypical example: the other day Lisa, my wife, called me at the office while she was in the car and said, “hey, traffic is horrible downtown…something is going on…will you look online to see what it is?”
As a dutiful husband, I did. First, I looked on Google, then some of the local news web sites, and finally searching on Twitter gave me the result I was looking for: there was a protest march blocking one of the avenues.
That was very cool: getting real-time information from other people about what was happening. There aren’t enough news reporters in the world to give the kind of coverage that everyone with smartphone and a Twitter account can give.
So, I’ll grant you the fact that in the future we might get a lot of information via social networks. But, real-time and social networks isn’t everything.
Yesterday, I made a trip out to the University of Washington for a TEDx Seattle event. (I am a UW alum, so it was fun to be back on campus—I hadn’t been there in a few years.) At the event, I struck up a conversation with a faculty member who I know, and to make a long story short, as part of the conversation Karl Marx was referenced, as in, “well, isn’t that like what Marx said?”
What Marx said exactly is irrelevant to this story. The real point is that Marx’ philosophies are still relevant today, yet a) they’re are not floating around real-time social networks, and b) they’re only marginally on the web. Where are they? They’re in books.
Typically, I read for awhile every night before bed, and last night was no different. So, like a dutiful technophile, I grabbed my Kindle (for the iPhone) and downloaded Marx’s Communist Manifesto. As I was perusing it, Lisa enters the story again:
Lisa: What are you reading?
Me: Karl Marx, he came up today and I wanted to remind myself about his ideas.
Lisa: Seems like that’s something that would be better read in a book.
Like usual, she has a point. Marx seems best read in a café, with a cup of coffee and a cigarette (if you smoke, I don’t).
What I’m afraid of is the more we embrace real-time and social as a panacea, the more we’ll lose and forget valuable and vital ideas and information. Important ideas that help us better understand the world and cause us to be better educated human beings, societies and civilizations.
I’m not saying real-time and social don’t have value—earlier in this article I have illustrated exactly how they do. The point is they’re not everything: whether you read Marx on paper in a book or on a screen, you’re never going to read him in real-time or on a social network.