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Rushes Sequences - Kevin Kelly interview - USA (Video)

Kevin Kelly is an author and blogger; he founded Wired Magazine and played an integral role in the Whole Earth Catalogue. He met with the Digital Revolution team to discuss young people's experience of growing up with the web; serendipity and playfulness online; and the issue of feedback loops.

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(Please note that this transcript is the 'raw data' text we receive from a transcription company. It is a tool commonly used in production to facilitate editing and review the content. We publish it for users in that same spirit, rather than it standing as a 'perfect' representation of the content.)

Kevin      I think one of the things that has happened to the first generation of kids to grow up always being on line, which by the way are my kids, they have never experienced dialogue or anything like that, they've always had, always on. And what I have seen is they have a global awareness that was not present in my generation. They really feel as if this is one world. They also deal as if they are always connected to everyone else, there's a feeling of being connected that I did not have in my generation. And I think the third thing is that there is a sense of movement forward, the sense of going somewhere, of maybe, you might call it progress, but I think was not present in previous generations.

Intrv Theorists like Robert Putnam have suggested that the idea of social capitalist, social glue that holds people together is impossible on line.

Kevin    I think that the idea that Robert Putnam had of bowling alone, that the kind of social clubs and volunteer efforts that was really kind of a part of America he suggests has gone. I think has been replaced by a different kind of social networking, a different kind of clubbiness. So its true that those old versions have gone and are missing, and I think we can regret that, but at the same time there is
a new variety, a new dimension of social interaction that was not present before and that is the dimension that we are exploring now. That has not really be possible before, its not been possible to have a 100 friends dedicated to one really obscure little fascination and now that's everyday occurrence. And so for many people this kind of new club, this kind of bowling is really a revelation and a great gift.

Intrv What glue is it that you think holds people together?

Kevin     I think one of the things that the web is doing, the kind of glue that its brought to us that we haven't had before, is the glue of obsession, the glue of fascination, the glue of passion about something in particular. And so I think people who maybe before were lost or felt alone in their own little interests, now are able to really connect with people who share what they share. This fascination with something in particular and that particularness has been amplified and magnified and that is the glue that I think brings a lot of people together that was not present before. 

Intrv ..... talks about these communities of practise and all that. What examples do you have of how hyper linked thoughts going from one idea to the next, what examples do you have of how this has been good for us and how this is different from a more linear way of thinking from the 19th century.

Kevin      One of the differences that we have with this kind of hyperlink thought is that we have a really a way to dream while we are awake, if you think about the kind of sequence of web pages that you have in the morning when you are skipping along, its almost like a dream, there's kind  of a weird association that goes on a guy in front of a chop board to a lady in a veil giving a confession, to a boy and a balloon, and its, its sort of almost non irrational, but that dreaming, that playfulness is a think the aspect that were recovering back into the culture, its become in general a very efficient and extremely optimising productive and I think one of the things that's beautiful about the web is that it wastes time and that, we can bring that kind of playfulness back into that kind of hyperlink, lets see where it goes, and ill wonder and get lost, and I think that's beautiful.

Intrv This idea of the term playfulness something I'm very passionate about, yet even the term playfulness as if the web is not a serious enterprise.

Intrv I love this idea of playfulness. Erm, yet I think that word, even the fact that it says the word play in it would put some people off.

Kevin   I don't think I would even counter the argument that playfulness is a wrong attribute to assign to the web because the web is so much bigger than just business and making money and governing it is really culture at large, it's a new form of culture and the culture will range from playfulness and inefficiency and just playing around, to the most serious accomplishments and achievements of humanity, so it has the full range, and I think we should embrace that, the fact that it can be trivial, that the web can be a waste of time, that it can be nonsense and at the same time its probably the greatest thing that we have ever done.

Intrv The ideal of trivial in our actions suggests that it's not possible to generate serious relationships between one and other.

Kevin    So you know, on first impression people were very suspicious of the ability of the web to actually really enable serious relationships and trust, and er when Pierre Olivier invented EBay, this was one of the arguments against his start up, was nobody is going to buy a car on line. No ones going to buy anything from a stranger they have never seen. But Pierre said no, actually the things that we call trust are really forms of communication, and if a wire can carry electronic charges it can actually carry trust as well. And so not only that but the basic premise is that people want to be good if there allowed to give them the means and the mechanisms to, and so he was able to make a way in which to re-trust electronically and I think we've seen from the success of eBay that this is really something that the web can do.

Intrv   How important is the concept of the feedback loop.

Kevin    Erm, there, there is this notion of a, of a cyber netting feedback loop where tiny singles are amplified and made larger, and that's actually the foundation of almost all the systems, including ........ evolutions. And in, in the web its really critical, infact one of the key inventions er, which is page ......, which is the foundation for Google, revolves around the fact that there's a feedback loop. That there wasn't just so much what people were clicking on that made things but the, the other feedback loops of er, links connected to the page that you were linking to so that in effect it was, this feedback leads to capturing a larger and larger feel of inputs and I think the power of the feedback loop, which is electronics and micro circuits give us, is, is the ability to amplify small things into large things. Its very similar to compound interest, which I think was Einstein who said that there was no greater force in the world than compound interest. Well there's sort of no greater force in the world than feed back loops which can amplify small things into big things, and so what this feedback loop has given us a way to amplify small goods into large goods and the danger of feedbacks is they can amplify decent and bad things, and negative things as well. So we always have to balance it, but feedbacks are the great amplifiers, so Atlas talked about moving the earth with just one board and a lever in the right place, and that's what feedback is, it's a very long lever that can move mountains and move things in the earth.

Intrv How would you argue that feedback loops help to generate diversity.

Kevin So, so there is a danger in feedback loops where you were only going to be delivered what you want and the leads to kind of a dumbness and stupidity. But I, but I think what, what happens is that while we like to have things that are the same, we also have an insatiable appetite for new things and feedback loops also propel that, so its really kind of a matter of education of, of bringing people the news that they have the ability to see new things and one of things that the web does very well is random encounters and stracatic impulses and serendipity and so they also get us out of our little ruts and deliver us things that we'd never thought about before. And I think that's er, one way in which feedback loops can actually propel diversity.  

Intrv You mention serendipity and often people say that the web does not allow for serendipity because one is active, one is explicitly seeking.

Kevin  Well erm, I think the web is almost nothing but serendipitous, I, I find it hard to believe that anybody could say that there was no serendipity in the web because you don't have to, you can miss your mouse by one inch and your somewhere completely new. I, I think erm, it propels serendipity because it is gathering everything. I mean one of the things that's really, what we don't appreciate right now is the fact that the web is gathering everything, all people, all computers, all documents, and when you have everything that's qualitative difference so its, its like the difference between having a few, for knowing a few of the chemical elements and then knowing all the elements, when you know all the elements you can do chemistry. Its like, its like seeing only a few of the stars versus all the stars. Its like having only a couple of the letters of the alphabet and having all of them. When you have all it changes everything, and that's what were really doing with the web is that the serendipity comes from having all things on it.



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