Jim Carroll was the keynote speaker to a group of business people, as a part of their conference on New Markets and Opportunities for Growth. He is a very entertaining and compelling speaker, and has some credibility as a result of his publication, The Canadian Internet Handbook. CarrollŐs talk seemed to have two purposes: one, to educate people about the Internet and debunk some common myths, and two, to explain how the Internet, specifically the WWW, could be used as a commercial marketing medium. As an academic who enjoys the Internet for other reasons, I guess I resented the instruction of these ŇnewbiesÓ in how they could exploit the Internet to sell their products. This bias may, or may not, color how I interpreted much of CarrollŐs presentation.
CarrollŐs opening comments were, I donŐt like to hype the Internet. He then suggested the Internet will change the ways we do business, and impact society in ways we havenŐt even begun to imagine. He suggested that anyone can become a publisher/producer of information. This right is not longer the sole property of radio, television and newspapers. The ability to produce oneŐs own homepage, with audio, video and text, will most certainly change the way in which information is shared, and one can expect that this will have an impact on peopleŐs belief structures. I tend to agree with and support the anarchic nature of the Internet, and believe that information should be produced and shared freely. This ability will have an impact on societyŐs current belief structure. However, it remains to be seen how long this freedom will be allowed to continue. The business communitiesŐ interest in the Internet seems to be a double edged sword. The input of additional resources for building and extending the infrastructure is welcome, however, one can anticipate that this investment will come at some cost. Perhaps those costs will include a glut of advertising, limits to accessibility, more controls over information exchange and content, and increased expense for connectivity.
Carroll proposed that by virtually every measure, Internet connectivity is growing in ways not previously seen in human history. He mentioned that there are over one million regular Canadian users, while over three million have access. What might the effect be on human attention and selection when presented with a plethora of information choices? Will humans actively interact with this information, and transform it into personal knowledge, or will they become passive consumers? Will there be TOO much information, and some humans will opt to become unconnected? Weird questions perhaps, but of interest to at least one person. :)
Carroll debunks the myth that the Internet is not a business network. The Internet has a unique culture with its own rules and methods for doing business. Carroll presents the Internet community almost like a tribe in Africa, and business people, acting as cultural anthropologists, have to observe and learn this new culture in order to interact with it. He suggests that business people have to develop an understanding of the InternetŐs culture, language, rules of etiquette, and nuances. Then, in the true American fashion, they can learn how to exploit this culture for commercial reasons. The development of the InternetŐs culture is an interesting area of study all on its own. Carroll is suggesting a study with a definite end goal in mind. The better you understand a culture, the better you can take advantage of it.
Carroll points to the myth that the Internet is confusing. He describes the Internet as a bunch of computers talking to other computers. He tried to simplify the hardware and cables part of the Internet, and reduce it to the same type of interaction as using the telephone. I feel that he has either skipped over the human part of this interaction, or just ignored it for simplicity. However, CarrollŐs main point seemed to be that if you are fearful of this thing, because you donŐt understand it, then you are missing the boat. PeopleŐs fear and confusion about the Internet is real, whatever their individual or collective reasons. This is a new, and for some, a confusing medium. Carroll, who comes from the technologically informed perspective, has conveniently discounted these fears as being unimportant. This is a narrow, and simplistic view. Perhaps people's fears, and hesitations about the Internet should be investigated further, rather than discounted as being unimportant. Someone who is in the know, and excited about the Internet, does not have the patience for naysayers, or those who are hesitant. For a balanced view, both perspectives should be investigated and considered.
Carroll discusses my favorite myth, that the Internet is full of pornography and should be controlled. It is a natural societal reaction to new or different technology to call for more controls on types of interaction and content on the Internet? Carroll describes the information available on the Internet by using an analogy with the corner store and XXX video stores. Porn (and other nasty things) are a fact of life in the physical world, and it shouldnŐt surprise us that these things are resident on the Internet. If people want to interact and exchange this type of information, they will find a way, be it in print, or on VHS video tape, or on the Internet. If we cannot suppress this activity in the physical world (assuming that this is a valid goal), why should we think that we can suppress this activity in the electronic world? I agree with Carroll that the media has turned ŇPorn on the InternetÓ into a sensational news item that distorts peopleŐs perception of the Internet. The Internet is a communication and information exchange medium, and we should not be surprised that it reflects, in some ways, the way we interact and communicate using existing media.
Carroll suggests that we have a generation (baby boomers) of people condemning the Internet, and they are not even on it. He suggests that we now have this Information Highway thing, and it has created a generation gap that we havenŐt noticed until now. The direction of this argument is reminiscent of the sixties, where there was an old establishment, and the youth that really knew the emperor wasnŐt wearing any clothes. Carroll describes the vice president of a large communications company, who envisions people using the Internet to order pizza. Stick with me here. Carroll is using this example to describe how the older generation displays a lack of vision when they construe the Internet as a consumer network, and that this limited thinking has implications. It might be neat that people can use the Internet to order pizza, but that is hardly the point of the whole mediumŐs existence. He describes how Ted Turner, who is a television magnate, thinks the information highway is analogous to having 500 channels on television. Carroll emphasizes that the information highway is not about more television, or more radio, or more newspapers. He suggests that the younger generation is going to use the Internet as a learning medium, that they are going to want to be educated by what they find on the Internet. CarrollŐs approach fits in with his idea that if businesses want to take CORRECT advantage of the Internet, they have to EDUCATE consumers about their products. Quite a leap, you say? Well, this idea seems to fit well with a new belief structure, new ways of interacting, and learning the new culture. I hope I have represented CarrollŐs approach faithfully, because in a way, I think it makes sense. If I can sit in front of my computer, and find out information on several models of cars before I go into a showroom, I will be a more educated consumer. Maybe this information will be valuable to me. If car companies want to sell cars, they will have to educate the public about the benefits of buying their car. If I have access to the Internet, and use it as my only information resource, then only those car companies who have distributed information on this medium will be considered.
Norman (1980) states that human memory is central to human cognition, and memory systems are central to cognitive systems. The complexities of retrieval from a very large memory store are not well understood. We need to understand the representation of knowledge, including the process that operates upon the representation. Carroll states that the younger generation is reaching out to communicate with keyboards, not television remote controls. The younger generation is taking advantage of a completely new, high speed information distribution system. With technological advancements, soon everything will be plugged into the Net (telephones, radio, television, newspapers). Carroll asks the question, ŇDo you think that if you link together all of the computers in the world, that you cannot have an impact on business?Ó I would take this question a step further, and ask whether this impact will be on human memory, specifically how we organize and retrieve information individually, and whether this will be shaped by how we access information using an interconnected medium such as the Internet.
Norman (1980) describes performance as the study of the output of cognition. There are so many muscles to control, and so many degrees of freedom possible because of the numerous joints and the flexibility of the body, that the computation of the proper motion of each antagonist muscle pair seems beyond possibility. Huge parts of the brain are devoted to motor control. Consider the following statement by Carroll in light of NormanŐs comments about performance. Carroll states that the Internet does not have an OFF switch. The growth of the Internet seems inevitable and unstoppable. There will literally be an infinite number of ways that people will have access to information. The computation of the access possibilities, and individual use patterns, and choices seems beyond possibility. One might ponder the possibility that people will have no choice but to get online if they want access to information, or one might guess that the Internet as we now know it will evolve into no more than another communication medium controlled by business. Perhaps the sheer number of choices is overwhelming to people, and they have no idea where to begin.
Norman (1980) suggests that a major difference between experts and novices is timing, and practice. After all of his myth debunking, and visionary talk about the Internet, Carroll states that in reality, it will take some time before the Internet really begins to change business behavior. He describes us all as relative novices, and that only with time and practice will we become expert users of this tool. This new means of communication will take some time to make an impact on human behavior. Carroll describes the Internet as a relatively unsophisticated marketing strategy tool, as of yet. Carroll revisits the necessity of Cultural Knowledge, and suggests that businesses will have to change their culture in order to use the Internet advantageously. For example, businesses should be asking how they can use this technology to make it easier for customers to do business with them. The possible advantages of direct customer contact using Internet are: providing details on products and services, updating statements and customer identification online, dissemination of product research information, providing customer support information, and getting feedback from requests for information. Carroll suggests that customers should be able to access a shared database of a companies internal information system. He suggests that this new medium will force us to change how we view and share information.
Many of CarrollŐs comments and suggestions have relevance to a consideration of how use of the Internet may have an impact on human thought. Human behavior, their belief systems, and their ways of learning may/will change. CarrollŐs presentation came down to a consideration of NetScape, and how businesses could represent their products and services on the Internet. Carroll states that in order to represent yourself on the Net, you either become a Geek, or hire a Geek. Businesses have to be aware of the new culture that they are attempting to exploit, and here is one vehicle you can use to do so.
It was fascinating to sit in on a talk about the Internet from a business perspective. Many things went through my mind, most of which I have tried to represent in the discussion above. The academic community seems to have a different take on the whole Internet phenomena, perhaps because use the Internet sort of began with the military and the academic worlds. I would like to hear Jim CarrollŐs perspective on uses of the Internet in Education. I expect that his speech would be tailored to his audience, much as his talk for business people zeroed in on exploitation of the Internet for commercial goals. Carroll touches on many important issues, such as the different culture on the Net, human behavior and learning, and interaction issues. His views on the implications of electronic communication for education, I am sure, would be very entertaining and also very interesting.