Ben Brostoff

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13 Dec 2014
The Internet Is Awesome

I spent the great majority of this weekend messing around with a Raspberry Pi I received for my birthday from my dad. Besides being a leading candidate for best present I have ever received, the Pi led me to three great epiphanies:

  1. The internet has exponentially expanded our ability to work alone and without friction costs on projects we enjoy, which in turn has led us to new projects we otherwise never would have taken on
  2. Contributing to the internet is as enjoyable as receiving from it, which encourages people to both consume and create knowledge
  3. All of this bodes well for a knowledge economy

I think (1) was the most obvious realization for me, so I’ll start there. I am absolutely sure the Rasberry Pi is a project I would have abandoned as a child. I know I would have abandoned it not out of a lack of tenacity or curiousity - I know I would not have been able to find out what to do if I were stuck. To be clear, the Rasberry Pi is meant for children, and the projects I worked on this weekend are embarrassingly kid-oriented (lighting up LED bulbs). Yet, do-it-yourself assembly kits for kids require instruction (think Sea Monkeys) that might not necessarily be obvious to adults.

Most every step of the way this weekend on the Raspberry Pi I had no idea what to do and was just referring to some online tutorial or YouTube video (among other things, I learned the UK seems to be the largest producer of Pi-oriented content, perhaps because the Pi was invented there). Parsing through good and bad stuff was fairly easy, and even YouTube comments served as a means of curating material for me:

I know of no other medium so good at simultaneously offering humor and useful information.

That brings me to (2). I thank the internet this weekend for giving me the opportunity to SSH into my Pi from my laptop, light up LEDs and not look like an idiot when working with Vi. All these things no doubt better my quality of life, which is why I feel strongly about giving back to the internet through developing software and general knowledge sharing (this blog, I hope).

And finally, (3). The fact that the Raspberry Pi is aimed at children but that an entire knowledge economy among adults has formed (and continues to grow) makes me optimistic about the future of Planet Earth. In addition to enriching our experience and pushing us to produce good content as knowledge-sharers, the internet leads to wholly unpredictable innovation. When the Pi’s inventors built it to raise computer science interest, I’m not sure they could have envisoned adults building web applications to control lights with a back-end framework developed in 2010.

The internet has a way of inspiring creative initiatives. As Jack Minardi notes in his blog post linked above:

"NOTE: I am not a Flask or web design expert, so I might not be doing things the correct way. But it wouldn't be hacking if we knew what we was doing all the time, would it?"

I believe people feel initiative to contribute on the internet and are not burdened by fear of being wrong (a burden that so often rears its ugly in corporate culture and academia). The environment people have created online is conducive to exponential knowledge growth, which is overwhelmingly positive in any knowledge economy. The internet is awesome. I’m excited and proud to be a part of it.


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