I’m writing this from the Red Carpet Club at the San Francisco airport, waiting for my first hop flight on a trip to Abu Dhabi. I’ve been invited to speak at the Education Without Borders conference on networking and access to technology. Here’s the abstract for my talk, which was inspired by Stewart Brand’s book How Buildings Learn:
Pervasive communication networks greatly increase our ability to share information, but this can sometimes come at a great cost. In physical architecture, the imperceptible slow change of the site and structure dominate the more fast-moving familiar processes that are easily visible to the users of building. The same is true in communication networks, where the social environment of a network’s users and its basic technology steer its future development path. Network engineering is mainly a technical discipline that attempts to optimize for the technology of today while remaining open to tomorrow’s developments. Defining what is optimal and should be maximized, however, is a social question that drives those engineering decisions.
We are in the midst of one of the most fundamental changes in the physical architecture of the Internet, with potential profound changes in its social effect. Most of the technology that underlies traditional Internet access is based on “fixed” networks built from expensive and inflexible cables. The physical architecture constrains network services to areas where the infrastructure is easy to build, keeping access concentrated in densely populated areas. Newer wireless technologies free network builders from technological dependence on cables, and from the financial constraints of needing to pay for costly infrastructure. These technologies enable the network to reach into remote locations that would have previously been considered “off-limits” to traditional technologies.
The resulting flexibility from wireless technologies is shifting the focus of innovation and use away from traditional markets for new technology towards emerging markets that benefit more from its advantages. Instead of importing designs and their implicit social models from existing networks, network builders need to ensure that these new technologies are used within the correct social context and are made broadly available.
The conference is doing a/v recording. I’ll definitely post my slides, and with luck, the audio and video.