The internet is inevitable. I don’t mean just the hypnosis of your Instagram feed but how broadband and optical technologies allow everything to be connected. I’ve watched this grow since the mid-1990s, and today we are more connected more often in more places. The digitization of the physical world may have started slowly, but now we can find a digital heartbeat in even the most inanimate of objects. And it is changing how we live, work, create, consume, imagine, travel, and even cure ourselves.
Something like this has happened before. Back in the early 19th century, engineers married the steam engine with the wheel, and the world changed. That alliance ushered in the Industrial Revolution: roads, railroads, steamships, factories, mass production — everything happened because the power of steam was made mobile. It altered the face of the entire planet.
Bringing distant points closer especially transformed commerce. For example, food transport became faster and more affordable: Now that the ocean was only a short train ride away, fish and chips became an instant staple across Britain. Compressing distance and time deflated the impact and rarity of those regional foods.
Well, it is happening again. This time instead of the steam engine, we are seeing compute engines go mobile (or placeless), thanks to ubiquitous internet connectivity.
Just as the partnership of the steam engine and wheels on tracks opened up a world of possibilities for Victorian England, so the marriage of microprocessors and network connections is dramatically changing the way modern society functions. The impact is much more far-reaching than a few apps, videos, or games across platforms. I see it as completely upending our social-political-economic order. Because where the Industrial Revolution deemphasized individuality and ushered in an age of machination, our current era, which I call the internet economy, brings back hyper-personalized connections, in both good and bad ways.
Connectedness has always been the driver of social, cultural, and economic change. And it alters everything: How we manage our health, what we eat, how we consume, how we work, and how we live. Just like railroads, the internet compresses time and distance, transforming commerce and blurring regional idiosyncrasies of culture and identity.
In this brand new world, the assumptions of the past are being overrun by the future. What awaits us is exciting, scary, adventurous, and powerful enough to rip the fabric of society as we know it. In the summer of 2014, I started working on a project to chronicle this transformation. Pi.co is that project.
“Pico” is a prefix in the metric system denoting one-trillionth. It is also a small corner of the ever-growing web where I keep a record of my conversations with interesting people. Some are famous, some are young. Some are unknown, and some are wise and old. These conversations are not about technology. Instead, they are about transformation through technology as observed by those who are living through it.
When looking for a format to chronicle this societal transformation, I was encouraged by the Great Discontent; however, ultimately I went back to the freestyle methods of the old Rolling Stone and Playboy magazine interviews, where conversation tended to be much less formal, where questions were as important as answers.
But the stories on this site aren’t news or even interviews. Instead, they are simply conversations, relevant to our times — an attempt to capture the zeitgeist. Some will be short, some will be long. Some will ramble. And they will all be interesting, eclectic, and have one more thing in common: They have reshaped my thinking in some way.
Kevin Kelly says it is all about 1,000 true fans. I am going to be a bit more ambitious. With Pi.co, I want to reach about 10,000 readers per month by end of 2015. I won’t be counting page views or unique visitors. Instead I will focus on actual readers: someone who spends 10 minutes or more on Pi.co, reads more than 95 percent through a conversation, or saves it to Instapaper or Pocket and actually reads the piece later. Why 10,000? Well, there must be 100,000 people who are wondering about the change. Finding a tenth of them is a Herculean task — not that I am in a rush. I want you to sit back and enjoy the conversations. There isn’t a schedule — just a conversation.
For starters, peruse my conversation with Cole Rise, a photographer, software developer and a creative free spirit who goes to the edge to find that great photo. Our conversation ended up being a reflection on technology, mobile phones and how they are changing our sense of self, as individuals and social animals. Of course, Rise shared some of his photography tips and talked about what he thinks is his favorite photo. Go ahead and read the whole conversation.
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San Francisco, December 1, 2014
Photo of Cole Rise by Helena Price!