In Michael Crichton’s books Jurassic Park and The Lost World he created a very inspiring character that goes by the name of Dr. Ian Malcolm (portrayed in the movies by Jeff Goldblum). Malcolm is a mathematician who specializes in a branch of mathematics known as “Chaos Theory” (chaotician).
I find most of Malcolm’s concepts and theories interesting but there is one in particular that I don’t think I can agree with. Basically he believes that the connection of computers to build a cyberspace would be the end of innovation for the world. Now I need to to also state that the books are from the years 1990 and 1995 and that at that time many people considered the internet to be a trend and might not be utilized to the extend as we know it today.
This is what he says in The Lost World:
“[..]Although personally, I think cyberspace means the end of our species.” “Yes? Why is that?” “Because it means the end of innovation,” Malcolm said. “This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death. Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they’ll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behaviour. We innovate new behaviour to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups.
Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That’s the effect of mass media – it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s a McDonald’s on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas.
People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity – our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faster than trees. But we haven’t figured that out, so now we’re planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it’ll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity. [..]”
― Dr. Ian Malcolm (fictional character by Michael Crichton, The Lost World)
Personally I learned most things of all knowledge I use on daily bases from the internet and share own experiences back to the internet – such as with an article like this very post here. Therefore I owe a great debt to the technology and the people sharing their knowledge alike. I would like to reflect my own thoughts, I had when reading the text above.
As far as innovation goes I believe things have turned out to differently with the internet. The sharing of ideas or even the donation of ideas for others to use them has bred great projects in the past years. Platforms like OpenIDEO are a great example to proof that such activities are gaining popularity.
Our thinking has not (yet?) merged to be the same – global uniformity has not yet happened. Our culture is still dominated by local and social factors in our immediate environment. Also the discussions we hold with others breed ideas and are not possible to be re-created in a different environment with different people involved. Maybe there are similarities and maybe there are ideas leading to the same innovative product but ideas along with their sources are usually unique.
We still tend to try solving problems of our environment first and the environments are far from matching up to other places in the world. You will find many of the mentioned similarities as part of global economics and marketing but even with the example of McDonalds, actually the food in every country offered there is entirely different except for five core products which make McDonalds who they are.
Ultimately speaking however the quoted theory could be based on long-term development of both internet and humankind. Of course I cannot foresee how things are going to be like in a thousand years but from my current perspective I would say that the connectivity of people and reducing intellectual proximity aids innovation more than it would prevent the same.
What do you think about this? Do you support the statement of Malcolm, thought of by Crichton, or do you feel like the internet rather aids innovation? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. And also if you are interested in failing computer systems and the vulnerabilities of systems in general or if you just like dinosaurs, go read the books. They are (as usually) a lot richer than the movies. Thanks for reading and thanks to Michael Crichton for writing these great pieces.