Monday, 29 August 2011

Why Renaissance Geek?

It's time for me to get serious about blogging. 
Frequently I catch myself feeling the urge to voice my opinion on a news item or vent about something. Often, I also feel like if I forced myself to write about a topic, I'd have a better chance of actually learning about it, sorting it in my head and have an educated, well-grounded opinion. 
Often, however, 140 Twitter characters don't do justice to a complex topic and my friends on Facebook are way too diverse to be interested in my narrow focus on technology.  

But what should be the theme? It's no good to simply go with "Michal's blog" as I used to do before - it's just too focused on me - without a theme that transcends my humble persona, that sounds like too much of a narcissistic thing to do. 

So while I knew that the playground of the blog would be technology and the internet, I felt like I should give it a bigger umbrella than just "my personal rants". 

On the quest for this overarching theme, three main convictions crystallized: 

1. The power of the internet to change societies to the better
I thought back to my early days at London Business School and that fateful moment in October 2007 when I decided that I would apply for a job at Google and leave Consulting. 

I remember why I actually wanted to work at Google. Of course, it had the well-known allure of the Chocolate Factory that the little Charlie within me succumbed to, but the main reasons were idealistic: No matter what your, dear reader, opinion is on Google's current position in the internet ecosystem, you have to admit the incredible shift that they (and many others) have engendered in society. Just the sheer fact of being able to find reliable information within seconds on almost any topic doesn't cease to amaze me. 

Let me indulge in a little thought experiment: What if Communism in Eastern Europe hadn't crumbled 22 years ago and half of Europe would have continued behind the Iron Curtain into the nineties?
What would have happened when the Web took off? Would the rulers have been able to stem the tide of free flow of information in and out of nations that live side by side to some of the most prosperous states in the world? Wouldn't they have been forced to justify hour-long queues for basic goods at supermarkets given that the next Wal-Mart ad, showing the West's stratospheric quality of life, was just one mouse-click away? 

It would not have been possible to maintain the prohibition of private enterprise, the impossibility of traveling abroad and the terrible level of products and services in the age of the world wide web.

One might argue that China today exemplifies what happens when you bring a dictatorship into the internet age - citizens are allowed to move freely in and out of the country, business flourishes and people prosper. The only thing that booming China today has in common with the drab, stagnant hopelessness of The Eastern Block 30 years ago is the supremacy and un-criticizeability of the ruling class. Everything else has changed. And I'd argue that the main catalyst in this has been the internet. 

Needless to mention the Arab Spring that has been possibly sparked, but at least greatly helped along by Facebook and Twitter. 

2. The power of technology to improve lives
Remember the time when booking a trip meant to go to a travel agency, look through their paper catalogues, believe what they advertised, pay a hefty markup for their services and then discover cockroaches in the hotel bathroom? As long as there wasn't a case for a civil suit, all one could do is to verbally complain to your friends and family who probably weren't that interested. 

Boy haven't we come a long way from this sorry state of affairs! 

I realize that I'm not a geek for geekiness' sake. I don't particularly indulge in an iPad because it's a great piece of technology. I love the fact that it allows me to pull up any book at any time, to fill up pockets of time that would have gone unused and thus increase the value of my day.
My professional admiration for Facebook centers on the paradigm shift they achieved in human communication (they introduced the concept of broadcasting yourself to your friends as opposed to linear messenger-receiver form of communication). However, my juices REALLY start flowing when I think about the delight of re-connecting with old friends and receiving micro-jolts of pleasure through likes and comments being multiplied a billion times across the world, every day. By how much has this technology increased the overall volume of happiness of humanity? 
Examples abound - from Microlending to Online Dating and remote education. Amazing tools to make life better, more productive and more fun.

3. We are in control
We decide what to do with our lives. We decide whether our Sunday afternoon is spent with a tub of ice cream in front of the TV or climbing the steep hill of self-development.
Once we have chosen to take the latter route, technology can greatly help us in getting there faster and easier. 

And hence the name of the blog. In the 21st century, noone can become a polymath any more - there's too much to learn and to know. 
But with the power of technology and especially the internet, we can learn more about the world and its wonders than any other generation before us and thus, approach the famed ideal of the Renaissance person
This blog shall be the witness-bearer and chronicler to this fact.

I hope you'll join me. 

Promise I'll be less lofty in my future postings. ;-)

 30.8. Update: Great Chris Dixon blog post on this very topic.


Alfred Biehler said...

Welcome back online, Michal!

Good to hear you voice on blog get too.

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