Monday, April 27, 2009

You're Still Just Cutting The Grass

Originally uploaded by snapify

Edwin Budding used a scythe like everyone else if he wanted his yard looking nice. It was the tool that was widely available for those who wanted to cut their grass in the early 19th century. One day, while working at a textile factory Edwin noticed a machine with a rotating blade that would sheer the nap of the cloth that was passing through it. This observation led to the invention of a mechanical lawn mower that has been improved on time and again throughout the past century and a half. The scythe cut the grass, but the lawn mower cut the grass quicker.

Much has been made throughout these series of tubes and elsewhere about social media of late. You know, Twitter, Facebook, and Twitter. Oprah is on board. Ashton Kutcher is on board. Your mom isn't far behind.

The Internet and social media specifically is an excellent tool for community building, forming organizations, or just organizing your next outing with friends. That's just it, though. Too many are foaming at the mouth over these tools. As if they're doing something other tools have not. The book is a tool that got humans away from those annoying scrolls. The phone is a tool that made everyone seem a little closer. The typewriter is a tool that made it a little easier to get your ideas in print.

We're constantly creating tools, improving tools, and utilizing tools. In the end, we're not doing anything different than what humans have ever done. Building communities, forming organizations, and organizing our next outing with friends.

What's my point? We're still just cutting the grass. We're just doing it a little quicker.


Tim Jahn said...

Spot on, man! The tools are just tools. It's what you accomplish with those tools that matters.

Micah said...

Sure it's just a tool, but it's a bit superficial to say it only lets us do what we were already doing, faster. The business models that the Internet opened up were not just difficult before; in many cases they were impossible. I'm not just talking about the companies who sell computers or Internet services or the companies like Google (which is "just" a digital phone book) or LinkedIn (which is "just" a digital rolodex) which only help us do what we could already do, "faster" in this new medium.

I'm talking about the tens of thousands of singer/songwriters who can actually make a living because of Myspace and iTunes - this was impossible in the non-digital age (and it has shaken up the music industry).

I'm talking about Amazon, which could sell items at the price they buy them at and still make a profit because their turn-around time is so much faster than brick and mortar stores that they make enough in interest from sales to pay for their business. This is not just "faster" in the sense of a lawn mower vs a scythe, this is like installing astroturf on someone's lawn and then getting paid each week the rest of your life for cutting their grass.

I'm talking about the iPhone app store which lets individuals make a living off of 99c products that they design in only a few weeks. That was completely inconceivable in a non-digital age.

I'm talking about Wikipedia, which is not just a better encyclopedia - it's an entirely new way of looking at knowledge; it doesn't just get information to more people "faster" - it puts the world's information at billions of people's fingertips in a way impossible in an age of physical copies.

The Internet is a true paradigm shift in tools because it completely changes the way we look at and share information. We've seen the music industry fall, we're seeing news empires fall, and we see book publishers falling on the horizon because the Internet does, in fact, change everything.

Of course a change like this has its pros and cons, and of course there are specific services that might get more hype than they deserve, but in the end, I'll take the Astroturf over the lawn mower... well, rhetorically anyway.