After leaving Twitter in 2011 and helping to incubate, among other things, the blog network Medium, Williams found himself rethinking his original formulation. Computers have proliferated and diversified, in size and function, to the point of being unremarkable. Information has become similarly abundant, rendering the term unsatisfyingly generic. And after 20 years, the types of people and groups you find online are basically identical to the people and groups you find in the physical world. What’s now important are the connections between the people and the machines.
…“The internet is not what I thought it was 20 years ago,” Williams said. “It’s not a utopian world. It’s essentially like a lot of other major technological revolutions that have taken place in the history of the world.” He compares it to, well, agriculture. “[Agriculture] made life better. It not only got people fed, it freed them up to do many more things — to create art and invent things.”
The rub is that we often take convenience too far. “Look at the technology of agriculture taken to an extreme — where we have industrialized farms that are not good for the environment or animals or nourishment,” he says. “Look at a country full of people who have had such convenient access to calories that they’re addicted, obese, and sick.” He likens this agricultural nightmare to our unhealthy obsession with internet numbers like retweets and likes and followers and friends.
That warning wasn’t so much a slam on Twitter, which Williams helped create, as it was an observation about human nature. People will be people. The internet wants to give them exactly what they’re looking for. And people who understand how to channel that tendency will be disproportionately powerful.