Good and Bad Technologies

Wow. Every now and then i come across a comment that rings completely and totally true to me. So it was 10 minutes ago with Clay Shirkey’s comments about good and bad technologies and freedom to innovate. Here it is:

The thing that will change the future in the future is the same thing that changed the future in the past — freedom, in both its grand and narrow senses.

The narrow sense of freedom, in tech terms, is a freedom to tinker, to prod and poke and break and fix things. Good technologies — the PC, the internet, HMTL — enable this. Bad technologies — cellphones, set-top boxes — forbid it, in hardware or contract. A lot of the fights in the next 5 years are going to be between people who want this kind of freedom in their technologies vs. business people who think freedom is a shitty business model compared with control.

And none of this would matter, really, except that in a technologically mediated age, our grand freedoms — freedom of speech, of association, of the press — are based on the narrow ones. Wave after wave of world-changing technology like email and the Web and instant messaging and Napster and Kazaa have been made possible because the technological freedoms we enjoy, especially the ones instantiated in the internet.

The internet means you don’t have to convince anyone that something is a good idea before trying it, and that in turn means that you don’t need to be a huge company to change the world. Microsoft gears up the global publicity machine its launch of Windows 98, and at the same time a 19 year old kid procrastinating on his CS homework invents a way to trade MP3 files. Guess which software spread faster, and changed people’s lives more?

This is but a small piece of a really brilliant interview with Clay where he tells some great NY stories and more at Gothamist.