Nicholas Carr is a prolific blogger, author and critic of technology since the early days of the social web. Carr began his blog Rough Type in 2005, at a time when some of today’s biggest companies where still start-ups operating out of college dorms. In 2010, he wrote the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction finalist The Shallows, in which he discussed how technology was changing the human brain. At the time, many were skeptical about Carr’s argument, but in just over a decade many of his predictions have come true.
In this episode of Big Tech, host Taylor Owen and guest Nicholas Carr reflect on how he was able to identify these societal shifts long before others. The social web, known as Web 2.0, was billed as a democratizing tool for breaking down barriers so that anyone could share information and have their voices heard. Carr had concerns; while others saw college kids making toys, he saw the potential for major shifts in society. “As someone who had studied the history of media, I knew that when you get these kinds of big systems, particularly big communication systems, the unexpected, unanticipated consequences are often bigger than what everybody thinks is going to happen,” Carr explains.
We are again on the verge of the next online shift, called Web3, and as new online technologies like non-fungible tokens, cryptocurrencies and the metaverse are being built, we can learn from Web 2.0 in hopes of mitigating future unanticipated consequences. As Carr sees it, we missed the opportunity to become involved early on with social platforms, before they became entrenched in our lives. “Twitter was seen as a place where people, you know, describe what they had for breakfast, and so society didn’t get involved in thinking about what are the long-term consequences here and how it’s going to play out. So I think if we take a lesson from that, even if you’re skeptical about virtual reality and augmented reality, now is the time that society has to engage with these visions of the future.”