Topic 1: The Web as Automobile


Watch the 2 minute clip from Orson Welles’ masterpiece The Magnificent Amberson’s about the advent of the automobile. Now watch it again, and substitute “the web” every time they say “automobile” or “gasoline engine.”

Done? Good. Now, rather than begging the question of whether or not the web (or the automobile) should have been invented, a more compelling direction may be considering the impact the web (like the automobile) has had on global culture. What kind of web do we have 25 years after its invention? In what ways have our minds been subtly changed by the advent of the web? And, more generally, how might we understand the advent of the web along the same historical lines as the advent of the automobile? Do some research, make a case, I think this will help us with the container metaphor.


I thought that I would start with the automobile (or car :). I thought of this report that shows how children’s right to roam has shrunk in 4 generations. Now we can’t say there is a causal relationship between the automobile and children’s right to roam (as you suggest cultural changes are much more complex than that) but there is likely to be a connection. So what struck me about that was that the automobile that has given us the freedom to roam - work further from home, go on holiday, meet up with friends and family - is also implicated in some of us roaming less as independent people. Taking this idea to the web, in theory we should be able to meet more and different people, experience a greater range of ideas but research by the Pew Internet project finds that the spiral of silence is alive and well on social media - people self-edit in ‘free’ communication spaces


Car metaphors are fun.

Unsafe at any speed


I guess one analogy is in the effects they have on regulators. After the proliferation of both automobile and web, the regulators step in to take off some of the raw edges of their use.

What is nice is that there is a part inside the automobile called the regulator. That seems to be missing in the web and is subsequently bolted on afterwards :wink:


@francesbell, I am writing this in the spirit of my total disgust at the American political landscape right now (having just blogged about it), and I am replying a bit tongue-in-cheek . . . but why do you think people really want to meet people who are somehow different? Few things are as comfortable (or self-righteous) as an echo chamber, and I while I do not drive very often, I do wonder if roaming serves the purpose to see more of what I already like?

Containers keep us safely in the box just as well as it keeps those nasty challenges out of here, too!



Interesting, what will be the equivalent of the seatbelt or the airbag?


This example about the resistance of some people to the new invention of the automobile reminds me of Socrates moaning about the propriety or impropriety of writing when he was walking in the Agora with Phaedrus, this is already some millennia ago :-smiley: He was outraged by the idea of teaching people how to write, and he was skeptical about the advantages and more worried about the disadvantages, namely that people would lack the knowledge and only will refer to remembrance, the written text. So I think this is a universal feature of humankind, we resist change because we fear the unknown, and we also need to learn new stuff and put our head to work harder to master this new thing, whatever that is. Imagine in those days when they had to come with a method to teach how to read and write. So the Web and all the changes it has brought about is not different from all these moments in history. And as someone said in the video, it will come and will stay. So what I try to do is to understand this new medium and all that it has to offer so that I can harness the maximum of its potential. That is why I think this hot seat that talks about tech stuff like API and Ducker is so useful! I love it!!
Concerning the silence spiral, my opinion is that people bring their fears and needs to the digital space as we can see. People, it seems the report confirms, need to feel accepted, and they can’t cope very well with been perceived as someone who thinks different. The Web or the Internet has amazing potentials to reach far more people, but the people are individuals with all of their limitations, they bring them along no matter what space for discussion they are in. And it seems to me being accepted in a group is a desire of many people!
Seatbelt and airbags are maybe privacy issues, copyright, creative common understanding, open practice ethics. And the cloud system could work as an airbag in case of a big failure? The ducker system might also be seen as an airbag?? I don’t know, just throwing some thoughts.


I fear we may be going off topic (and I have read your blog post Jeffrey) but one of my key learning topics last year was polarisation - here are some ideas from a strategic optimist but tactical pessimist (me!) that somehow seem relevant


I can come up with an analogy for the airbag, but then we have to delve into the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol: the collision detection mechanism (this is me trying hard to avoid the acronym) :wink: .
Seatbelt analogy? Perhaps the affordance of the web as mesmerising whole: keeping us strapped to our seats for ever more hours a day.


I did not see the prompt to compare the container tech to cars, but more how to compare the web as a system to the auto industry.

One interesting difference is that we are here using the web to discuss and shape it, as if the Ambersons might have had that discussion in a mustang convertible hurtling down the highway :wink:

It might be worth considering as well the orders of orders of magnitudes of difference in news/information flow. So much could be controlled in the early 20th century because of the controls industry leaders had on information, and how long it took to reach a large number of people.

But the attitudes to change, are what at stake. For all it has advanced, the basic language of the web as pages (like paper) behind stored in directories on servers (like a hierarchy of folders) is due for a shift. Our metaphors are a bit stuck.


I like the idea of seatbelts and airbags as analogous to privacy if we are thinking of the car as THE means of transport but we can walk too. Relating that to networks,l think we can idealise limitless connection but Light has theory of disconnective practice that highlights importance of disconnection in conjunction with connection. I had great fun exploring this in my contribution to a NLC 2016 symposium,


The comments might be positive. This “flame war” thing is mostly a myth put out by print journalists who just want you to keep reading newspapers. Fact.


NIce video showing how people look at changes driven by technology. It reminds me of Robert Chambers (known within international cooperation scene) saying: who wins and who looses? I think with technological changes there are always people who win and who loose. For instance in organizations, the middle managers typically loose with social media/ social intranets. It empowers individual professionals who can collaborate within needing the middle managers to connect them to other teams.