The main point of the Internet

Posted by on Oct 26, 2009 in social object, Web/Tech | 7 Comments


Hugh coined this bon mot today and I think he's on to something. Not that anyone set out to design a thing which would achieve this for us…and of course, it also does other stuff, good and bad. No, the internet and all the associated technologies have turned out to be so powerful because they unleash our social souls….our incredible desire and need to live our lives in the company of others, to be social creatures.

That's not just hanging out with others like us on social media platforms, or lurking fanboy/girl-like around our fave blogs or twitterers or even listening in that rather spooky way that we've all got used to doing but more fundamentally, being connected to each other enables us to be the social creature we were made to be: to navigate the big world of people and things through other people's reactions to it, to seek safety and protection and solace from other people. To be human, in other words.

Yes, it does sometimes lead to what the Daily Mail fears as  "orchestrated campaigns" against the status quo ( although as we all know the organising is rather more often of the self- type); yes, it can lead to highly volatile patterns of excitement and rapid turnover of popularity. And the sight of us behaving this way together isn't always very pretty. Or edifying. Or something our Enlightenment forefathers might be enamoured of.

But the important thing – and the really revolutionary stuff at play here – is that this kind of technology destroys many of the cultural, economic and politic brakes on our fundamentally social nature.

That is the point of the internet, as Hugh puts it so trenchantly.


  1. cyberdoyle
    October 26, 2009

    Great post. I think humans are social animals and currently with families being split up so much through education and careers the internet has given us our family and friends back. We skype, we chat, we post videos and photos to the ether and we all pick them up wherever we live. Our small village family has grown into a digital family, a global village. Thank you Internet.

  2. david cushman
    October 27, 2009

    Yep. 🙂 I always include a slide or two in my presos which goes something like: ‘The internet is for people, for people to form groups with shared purposes, groups of people that can form for little or no cost – and that changes everything.’
    In many ways the tech of the internet is a confusion.
    It’s the ability to organise as we choose (which the internet enables)which, as you point out, is the biggy.

  3. Ian
    November 3, 2009

    Yes but it’s simplistic to assume that removing barriers to socialising makes for better socialising, or stronger networks of human relationships, no? It can have the contrary effect, in fact.
    I don’t agree with every word of this David Brooks column but he’s on to something:

    November 6, 2009

    I thought it was for porn.

  5. Pkidner
    November 26, 2009

    Have been hunting around on information and came across this interesting discussion late, but I agree that the Internet and Social Networks are breaking certain barriers: distance and real-time are no longer an issue and the internet is therefore creating new forms of socialising. I don’t think the internet is replacing traditional ones. Its adding to them. The future norms of quality – how we socialise across cultures (I am writing from Greece), ages (possible comment above) and often the ‘impersonal’ manner we interact (like this blog comment) is what will define this future world-culture norm.
    Thanks for this. Interesting discussion.
    Paul Kidner
    (…signed in defiance of my own comment of faceless internet interaction.)

  6. Promotional Products
    November 27, 2009

    I like Ian’s comment, sometimes removing the barriers doesn’t always produce the expected results.

  7. Chris
    June 3, 2010

    Hi all, the concept is known as “other-directedness” since David Riesman in “The Lonely Crowd” and others showed also empirical data that demonstrates it quite well. I have also based my research on this concept and tried to identify patterns and to develop a model how online crowds can be recruited to make a Internet business model mode successful.
    If you interested, some stuff can be found at