An exploration of the idea that our densely networked online future will spell the end for big institutions.
Recent releases like Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns The Future? and Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock are laden with dire warnings of a future where the Internet has destroyed our morals and values. Mele’s debut is at least slightly more optimistic than these other books. Change for the better, he writes, will come by “assuming control of the technology, embracing where it is taking us while also having the collective determination and strength of mind to steer it where we want.” The author theorizes how the power of online networking will ultimately change the big establishments we all know. For example, he asks how journalism will continue when small news blogs and Twitter can publish with an immediacy big news organizations lack (a subject trotted out in seemingly every recent tech book). Mele also examines academia, the entertainment industry, the military, and the government and its political parties. It’s this last big establishment that brings the author’s most lively prose and arguments—no wonder, since Mele ran the website for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, arguably the first online grassroots campaign. Hidden halfway into the chapter on political parties, the author recalls how he Googled the Dean campaign’s website; when he found it was buried in other search results, he simply bought a Google AdWord, and traffic to the site skyrocketed. Mele eventually left New York and drove to Vermont to work for the campaign, where staffers “had been calling a Web company in another time zone for every single edit to the site” and “seemed stunned that [the author] could make changes...without calling anyone.”
Mele’s anecdotes from the Dean campaign are a genuine, historic glimpse into real changes wrought by the Internet, but these are mostly lost in uninteresting, uninspired discussions of changes our networked future might bring.