Gedankenexperiment: Here is the Internet


A digital native is a person who has grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet, mobile phones and MP3. A digital immigrant is an individual who grew up without digital technology and adopted it later. A digital native might refer to their new “camera;” a digital immigrant might refer to their new “digital camera.”

Description of “digital natives,” coinage generally credited to Mark Prensky

The idea of building competitors to Twitter on the same platform, or redistributing Twitter to multiple players reminds me of the idea that New York City should be rebuilt in Ohio because it would be cheaper. Or perhaps we could distribute a little of New York City in every state of the Union. New York City is what it is because of the people who live and visit there. Building another New York City in Las Vegas doesn’t result in the phenomenon that is New York City.

Echovar on decentralizing Twitter

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. […] Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.*

E.B. White, Here is New York (1948)

It took a week or so for these three things to snap together in my head, but when they did I was surprised how beautifully and accurately E.B. White described the population of the Internet.

I consider myself, and many of the people that I know, settlers: we have chosen to live a part of our lives online, and building online is important to us. Commuters have long since arrived—people who come online for work, or to do a little shopping, or in search of entertainment, but for whom the Internet is simply an interesting, useful, nice place to visit.

I’m not certain that there are yet many, if any, true natives, but I’m looking forward to seeing the (to me) strange changes engendered by people who can take the physical and metaphorical connectedness of the Internet for granted as a part of their daily lives.

* Personal note: my parents (both originally from the Midwest) moved to New York in 1968, and I was born in 1971. When I first read this passage, years ago now, I finally started to understand how my parents’ New York was different from my own—and that New York was important to them in a way that I think I can never entirely understand.