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Cuckoo, cuckoo

April 30, 2008

The inventor of LSD, Albert Hofmann, has joined the great Peter Max painting in the sky, but the dreams he spawned live on. Publisher and sometime savant Tim O'Reilly tells the BBC, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the open-sourcing of the World Wide Web, that a true "global consciousness" is at last emerging, thanks to the Net. "It really is going to happen," he says, and "it's going to happen mediated by computers." It is, he continues, "the most profound change since the advent of literacy."

Might I just point out here that both LSD and the Web were invented in Switzerland?

Robert Scoble, the famous blogger, also sees big things ahead for the Web. He tells the BBC: "Why couldn't I have a little glass behind my eye that tells me your Facebook page and tells me a little bit about you on Wikipedia while I am looking at you?" And just think what Twitter might turn into. "There is a new tweet coming into my account every 15 seconds," says Scoble, "and 15 years from now what's that going to feel like? You are going to be able to do a lot more than 140 character messages."

More than 140 characters? Amazing.

"Don't be so gloomy," Harry Lime tells Holly Martins in the film of Greene's The Third Man. "After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

O'Reilly may be right. Define consciousness downward sufficiently and - cuckoo! - a global one emerges.


Woah. I first misread Scoble's comment as saying "why shouldn't I have a little glass behind my eye" (rather than "why couldn't I...").

Why couldn't? nothing but medical reasons, I guess.

Why shouldn't? Too many reasons to list.

Posted by: finn at April 30, 2008 12:01 PM

This cracks me up. Nick, you missed your calling, you should have been a humorist.

A dark, Mark Twainish sort of humorist, but a humorist nevertheless.

Posted by: John Koetsier at April 30, 2008 03:19 PM

It's a class thing.

If you look at the rhetoric of the (extended, not geographically limited) Silly Valley elite, and if you look at their closer social connections, interesting facts emerge.

Not speaking specifically to Mr. O'Reilly but rather to "that scene", you find a lot of social connections to the Grateful Dead, the Pranksters, etc. There was money, some old, around the famous Bay area tripster scene and there's a social network that formed then and that persists.

Not that there's anything wrong with that per se (and perhaps the opposite!). But... that society seems from my perspective to have closed in on itself in two unfortunate ways. First, as with the "global consciousness" rhetoric you rightly lampoon, a lot of garbage philosophy and pseudo-science evolved into the common territory of tribal-membership-marking rhetoric. Do they believe it? Do they just spout it? Is it ironic? Is it metaphorical? Who knows and the answers vary from individual to individual but the bottom line is that that discourse Just Keeps Going and, because of its fundamentally nihilist character, it strongly resists criticism. If it feels good, it must be right. Second, that society also formed consensus opinions and views of hoi poloi. Remember, they are Space Pilots discovering New Mental Territory (drugs or no). Everyone else is just shut-eyed. The crowd is just a lot of people waiting to be woken up to Join Them on Higher Planes.

No, really. That's how it comes across when you get close to it.

Sociologically, you can see the effect. You get that crowd presuming to speak for crowds they aren't part of and avoid coming into serious contact with. They are immune to criticism so long as their books stay in the black and their wine stays good (both of which prove they are doing something right, right?). They maintain an intensely hierarchical world view, reflected in their business practice, but disguise it to themselves and others as some kind of promise of human freedom.

Shudder. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Here's a critique of a recent Web 2.0 mash-up for those who like to analyze tech from a social-consequences perspective. (The critique is threaded through and dominates the comment section.)


Posted by: Tom Lord at April 30, 2008 03:27 PM

Dammit, Tom, you're upstaging me.

Posted by: Nick Carr at April 30, 2008 06:01 PM

Glad you did get it of your chest Tom, I feel better already. You paint a picture that might describe an outsider but your language skills belie that fact, hey where’s my fire shield!


Posted by: alan at April 30, 2008 06:04 PM

I'm sorry, Nick. My wish would be apply a highlight marker to you. You're just so weirdly good.


Posted by: Tom Lord at April 30, 2008 07:22 PM


No, I'm not an outsider to that mess. I'm a shunned dissenter. I've been extended many of the privileges of my heritage class, in the past. Those have largely been withdrawn to the point that homelessness or worse looms large and many very bad things have happened to me. So, you can say that I am a spoiled brat who whines a lot and, at best, it takes me a lot of explaining (some of which I will not do) to contradict that completely.

My wine ain't so good anymore. That tends to focus attention.

More seriously: I'm bolder than many when it comes to wandering around the larger society. And my background isn't actually all (or, really, much) silver spoon. So I can see multiple sides of a lot of things.

Which is neat! I feel more "human" than I used to even be able to conceive of. Except that I'm pretty sure neither the pub or my grocer will accept "bon mots" as payment.


Posted by: Tom Lord at April 30, 2008 07:47 PM

From Citizen Kane(1941):
Kane: Are we going to declare war on Spain, or are we not?
Leland: The Inquirer already has.
Kane: You long-faced, overdressed anarchist.
Leland: I am not overdressed.
Kane: You are too. Mr. Bernstein, look at his necktie.

Posted by: Linuxguru1968 at May 1, 2008 11:26 PM

My favorite movie scene and my favorite fact (Web invented in Switzerland: you can only underestimate how self-indulgent Americans are about their country's contribution to tech). . .

Never though of connecting the two. Puzzles me now.

The whole thing about LSD makes it even odder.

Posted by: Bertil at May 3, 2008 01:33 PM

For what it's worth (my guess is nothing) - sometimes I think you looney and sometimes you are brilliant. This is the latter.

Posted by: Botchagalupe at May 6, 2008 01:36 PM

>> Web invented in Switzerland ...how self
>> -indulgent Americans are about their
>> country's contribution to tech). . .

Berners-Lee programmed the first web server on a NextCube, a product of NextStep which was founded by Jobs after he was fired from Apple. Another example of what we self indulgent Americans can do .....! ;)

Posted by: Linuxguru1968 at May 6, 2008 04:14 PM

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