Social Networking – the last innovation wave

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in  Facebook makes a provocative statement in a report by New Scientist. He says:

I believe that the computer age culminated in the internet, the internet culminated in social networks, and that we’ll have to look extremely far afield for what is next…My view is that the last wave of innovation is social networks, and that after that you have to go back to the science fiction of the 1950s for what’s next.

That’s interesting. He is not negating other possible histories that advances in social networking may spawn, just that an innovation as momentous may not happen anytime soon. Not quite what Kurzweil would say, though, when he talks about singularity (“there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality”).

Realization that the network is a crucial dimension and the accompanying technology shifts that enabled (and will continue to enhance and enable)  the impact of this realization, has been the key driver for this innovation. Perhaps the realization that we will enter “an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today” may birth new histories. Perhaps other ideas and realizations may negate Thiel’s assertions too.

I would be optimistic. The reasons are many. I think we have barely scratched the surface of the implications of the network across multiple disciplines. Much will be discovered on the way as networks evolve. And that will spawn many specializations, many new opportunities for cross disciplinary research and development.

Personalization could be one of those areas, with the network and singularity concepts contributing immensely to its evolution. For instance, in learning, if I could get exactly what I need, in the way I need and when I need to help me learn by some complex of systems, that would be effective personalization.

I would go so far as to state that this innovation is not the end, rather it is one of the first enablers towards a larger, much more fundamental change. And that change is not too distant or “far afield”.

One thought on “Social Networking – the last innovation wave

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  1. Thanks for the interesting write-up. My initial reaction was one of incredulity at the vastness of Peter Thiel’s statement that you quoted. Hasn’t the internet been a social network from its inception? But then I got to thinking about it in less literal terms. Looking at what the technological enablers are in today’s world there’s no denying the differences between then and now. And with talk of web 3.0 starting to trend I wonder how the notion of social networks as the culmination of the internet fits in. (At least I have seen Web 3.0 mentioned more times in the past few weeks than the rest of 2009…but then, maybe I just haven’t been part of the right conversations!) Does a semantic, virtual, real-time, ubiquitous (web everywhere), collective intelligence enabled, AI activated, location-aware, HTML 5.0 web fit inside what we think of today as internet-based social networks? If not, how will our concept and utilization of social networks evolve? Or is it far too early to be making such broad and bold declarations? Well, I don’t know the answers, but I do know that I’m excited as heck to be alive right now and participating in this dialog and unfolding of technological metamorphosis.


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