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November 2005

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As those researchers sent the first data across the wire years ago and breathed life into the ARPAnet, they actually had some idea of what was to come. I've heard interviews, and they were in some respects surprisingly prescient - if a bit overly optimistic - about the evolution of the global Internet and its facility for rapid data exchange between geographically remote locations.

No development has been quite as interesting to me as the free flow of previously arcane knowledge, and the spread of ideas despite authors' attempts to restrain them.

While the sum of human knowledge may not be instantly available to every man, woman, and child in my lifetime, I have high hopes that this is the ultimate destiny of the internet. Yes, there are technical barriers that must be overcome first, but I have little doubt that these will in time be addressed. More worrying to me are the social and legal problems - from poverty (the most obvious barrier to entry) to misguided notions of "intellectual property" (used to line corporate pockets at the expense of society), there are serious issues that must be addressed before we can realize the full potential of sharing collective knowledge as opposed to owning individual knowledge. Corporate interests (and, logically, their political extensions entrenched in various governments) have obvious, vested interests in maintaining the latter paradigm, but it remains to be seen if even they can leverage all that power and money to triumph over the basic human desire to learn and share. I think it's going to be rough for the oppressors in the long term, but - as they say - things may get worse before they get better.

Anyway, I'm interested in looking at how far we come, not only how far we have left to go.

There was a time, not so terribly long ago, that there were only a few ways for people to acquire knowledge that they were previously lacking. They could have a) asked around, hoping to be instructed by somebody else who already knew the information, b) dug through books or other static physical recordings of information to try to find the answer (which would likely have required a commute to a library), or c) tried to extrapolate the knowledge through observation and experimentation. For these reasons, it was highly important that a person not only devote a good bit of time to the initial acquisition of knowledge (either in a school, where all methods are employed, or in direct vocational training, where only a) and c) are used extensively), but that this person also have a relatively high capacity for retaining that knowledge in memory and producing it on demand.

Thus it is not surprising that our educational system served primarilly as a method for providing students with knowledge, essentially cramming their heads full of information, and then trying to ensure that they retained it. Knowledge was (and still is) power - and, as we all know, knowing is half the battle.

As I grew up in the 80s and 90s, it seemed that some educators were embracing the notion that perhaps the devil isn't always in the details - at least when it comes to molding the mind of a well-rounded and productive member of society. Still, I was hardly safe from fact cramming, and several instructors took it upon themselves to try and fill our minds with useless trivia. A prime example of such an utterly worthless activity was when my entire class was forced to memorize the name and location of every county in the state of North Carolina. To this day, the exercise stands in my mind as a singularly pointless waste of time. What benefit would knowing this information conceivably provide? If I need to locate a county in the state, do I not have the ability to find it on a map? When will it ever be so vital that I know the name of an obscure county that I cannot take the time to look it up?

I mention this because, much as I could easily acquire that sort of general geographic information utilizing a readily available state map (you'd be hard pressed to find a gas station without one), I can now even more easily acquire all sorts of information utilizing access to the world wide web.

In short - a whole new class of knowledge has become commoditized.

It really is an exciting thing, when you think about it. People are free to share their knowledge, and others are free to easily find it (thanks to the likes of google). From history to car repair, from art to cooking... we can now instantly learn so many things it's simply staggering. We can know about virtually anything that is unrestricted by legal barriers (such as copyright or patent) within a few minutes.

The power of this should not be underestimated. Even now, as information is so readily available, a lot of emphasis is still placed on just what people already know, instead of on their potential to acquire and adjust to new information. Far more valuable, now and in the future, is a person's ability to think in universal terms and to create new solutions by both leveraging existing knowledge and expanding the communal knolwedge base through research and reasoning.

In effect, thinking should carry far more weight than knowing. In a world where anybody can essentially know everything that has already been codified, knowing something becomes fairly meaningless - the real value is the ability to create entirely new knowledge and to apply existing knowledge in new ways.

Old is the new new. I wrote this months ago and forgot to submit it - doh!

I was never much of a music snob growing up. I listened to most of the same crap that everybody else listened to at whatever point in time it was - Dave Matthews, Metallica, R.E.M., U2, Nirvana, and the countless forgettable bands that enjoyed equal popularity but with shorter lifespans. I had my share of 80s music first, but at this point it's mostly a blur - maybe there was some Don Henley or some AC/DC or some Billy Joel or some Dire Straits floating around in there, but even though I *heard* the 80s music at the time I wouldn't say I was very musically *aware* until the early 90s - and even then, not so much.

So alterna-rock probably left the biggest impression on me, given that I was at that point old enough to have some notion of what I liked and didn't like. But really, I didn't ever get into the indy music scene - it was all stuff that I'd heard on the radio, or rarely something a friend picked up from somewhere.

So a decade or so later I see this movie called Fight Club, and at the end of this movie is this incredible guitar riff as the financial district crashes down around us. The song continued on into the credits and it was somehow perfect for the movie - I liked it, but had no idea who did it or what it was called.

Later I found out who it was - the Pixies - and finally broke down and bought one of their albums ("Surfer Rosa") when I heard a David Bowie cover of "Cactus." If Bowie thinks they're worth covering, then they must be for real...

So fast forward to now - I finally get the chance to see the Pixies in concert, after solo careers and a long seperation, they're back in the game.

The Pixies rock. They rock in a way that all the wanna-be alterna-grungers clearly wish they could emulate. You can hear Nirvana and Soundgarden and all the other Seattle bands give it their all, but the Pixies came first and they did it better. And man, they still have it - other than an early misstep on "Bone Machine" they were nearly flawless. Too bad the house audio equipment was so lousy and the amps were jacked up way too high, but it was a killer concert nonetheless.