I had the great chance to address some questions to David Weinberger on Internet and the current developments: read the interesting answers here!
Andrea Licata: Climate change and other serious global emergencies – which role could the Internet play with regard to this?
David Weinberger: Besides being a robust communication channel, the Internet also enables citizens around the world to mobilize to help during emergencies. This can include raising money, helping people find family members, and providing real-time reports on conditions so that logistical support occurs more smoothly.
Of course the Internet can also help us prepare for emergencies, and avert preventable ones. For climate change, the Internet is an amazing source of information for global citizens to understand what’s happening and to mobilize politically to try to force our governments to respond. It also enables unprecedented access to unprecedented amounts of data (some from sensors, but also from scientific reports, and global conversations).
At its best, the Internet can also not only enable us to know what’s going on around the world, but can help us to care more. But research shows (see Ethan Zuckerman’s book, Rewire) that overall we are not taking advantage of this resource to expand our vision of the world. That’s something we have to work on.
AL: As an academic, which is your definition of sustainability?
DW: I’m not an academic who studies sustainability, so my definition is no more helpful than anyone else’s.
AL: Which are the current trends of Internet communication?
DW: We continue to reach out to one another and to enjoy one another’s company.
I think we see the networking of our ideas and conversations changing much about knowledge. Not only is knowledge now far more available, it’s also harder to contain within topics and disciplines, credentials often count for much less than they used to, and — most important — knowledge itself is found in the webs of people and ideas who are interacting with one another and disagreeing with one another.
AL: This blog talks about the so-called “smart working”. Do you think the Internet is a good instrument to improve our work life and, hence, quality of life (for example working from home)?
DW: Sure. The Net’s already transformed business life so thoroughly that the changes are often invisible to us. We are now able to get up to speed on topics in hours that would have taken us weeks. We now generally are far more informal in our business relationships than we used to be, and we cut across the hierarchy much more easily. We now use persistent email groups to do work that formerly clustered around weekly status meetings. We collaborate across organizations far more fluidly. There’s far more humor and personality in business communications. All these things humanize the workplace. That’s a good thing.
AL: Do you think there is a growing interest in the topic of the Internet in the universities?
DW: Interest in the topic of the Internet has been growing in universities because researchers are increasingly using the Net to pursue their studies, because the Net is providing new ways to do research, because the Net is making it possible to pursue research that was not feasible before (e.g., Big Data), and because the Net is directly affecting the objects of study in many fields (e.g., sociology, communications, political science, economics, etc.).
Taking the Internet as its own topic, perhaps with its own discipline formed around it, is proceeding more slowly; it takes time for new disciplines to cohere and to become embedded in the organizational structure of universities.