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Finding Our Way in the Muddle

The world has changed. But I don't think I need to tell any of you that. Most of us work in job categories that didn't exist three decades ago, and that are continually evolving as technology obsoletes some of our skills while other doors open to new opportunities. This cycle is exciting, because of the opportunities for learning and growth. It is also stressful, because it's often not possible to step off of the roller coaster of technology change, even for a short time.

But the world has also changed in more insidious ways. Technology, the great democratizer, has lent voice and influence to a broader and in many cases much different set of constituents than traditional media. It turns out that Thomas Friedman was right, although describing the world as flat is a poor metaphor for the massively parallel communications channels that computing power and the Internet have created.

More voices heard sounds like a good thing, especially for those who may believe that louder voices have in the past required greater financial resources, or a position of power. But as we've discovered with the Web in general, the lowering of barriers has also resulted in a corresponding lowering of standards.

That's why Tim O'Reilly has proposed standards for blogging. These are not onerous; in an earlier day, we would have called them common courtesy, an act that might be increasing uncommon on the Web. My favorite is #2: We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person. All too often people resort to the impersonal postings and e-mails for what they lack the courage to say face to face.

You might argue that any attempt to censor the Web is a bad thing, and I have some sympathy with that argument. So does O'Reilly; he suggests putting a distinctive symbol on sites where anything goes in the discussion and comments.

But in a larger sense, Tim O'Reilly has the right idea. With freedom comes responsibility to use it wisely. The Web, and its unique ability to flatten the world and enable all voices to be heard, is a privilege owned by no one individual or group. If we don't each take care of our gathering places on the Web, they will degrade to the point that no one will come and visit.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 04/14/2007


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