Building Communities Around New Technology, with Walter Isaacson


Give yourself the gift of knowledge — subscribe to Big Think Edge:

If you’re interested in licensing this or any other Big Think clip for commercial or private use, contact our licensing partner Executive Interviews:

From the earliest internet message board to today’s highly-watched speedruns on Twitch, digital technology has satiated the human need to connect, collaborate, and form communities. Biographer Walter Isaacson, author of the new book “The Innovators,” explains how innovations such as chat rooms, blogs, and social media all serve the purpose of engendering community. He then predicts how new technologies will only serve to bring us closer together on the virtual stage.


Follow Big Think here:

Transcript: Almost any time we’ve created something new in technology we find ways to create communities around it. That was true of the Internet with the news groups and the bulletin boards. And it was true of the early online services like AOL and CompuServe. They were there not just to give you the news or give you your horoscope but to allow you to go into chat rooms, into bulletin boards, into ways to sort of form communities of interest. This has been a theme ever since, you know, Vaneevar Bush and J.C.R. Licklider, the great pioneers of the digital age said we’ll form virtual communities. We’ll use our digital tools to form communities of interest. When the World Wide Web came along in some ways it was a tiny step backwards because the Web was initially grabbed on as a publishing medium. Places like, you know, newspapers and magazines or new types of news services could make beautiful web pages with pictures and designs and the community was kind of relegated to a comment section at the very bottom that nobody ever really read.

But then once again the street found its own uses for things and people like Ev Williams who created Blogger and some, you know Swarthmore College sophomore named Justin Hall who started keeping a web log and talking about all of his sexual misadventures and everything else – suddenly we got this notion of blogging and a blogging community. And on top of that we’ve had all sorts of social networks being built whether it’s Facebook and WhatsApp or Twitter, we always seem to want to connect to each other. It hasn’t diminished our desire to meet up physically as well. In fact Meetup is a good example, that service of saying, you know, if you find friends in the digital world you actually sometimes want to get together with people in the physical world. But whether it’s physical or virtual our digital tools sort of grab us and say let’s form communities.

I think that technology has always been driven by engineering but the next phase is connecting the creativity to it, the creative industry. And I can see now evolving this merger of live action role playing games and other forms of games and virtual realities, like oculus rift and many other types of tools that will connect music and multimedia and the fashion industries and journalism industries to this notion of community formation, to Wikipedia, to crowdsourcing. So we could have collaborative new forms of arts and entertainment just like, you know, novels came along when we got the printing press and, you know, different things came along when we got television or different ways of having entertainment and media.

I think we will invent new forms of media that will tend to be more community oriented than television or print is that will tend to be more collaborative where many people will be working together creating a roleplaying game or creating some community around a topic, creating like a Wiki that can do almost anything – discuss any topic, play any game. I am really loving to see how this collaborative interaction, interactive, crowdsource creativity is starting to flourish, especially when you add on top of that a layer of something like bitcoin that allows sort of easy payments and allocating maybe the royalties from something that’s sourced and created by a crowd of people, not just one person. [TRANSCRIPT TRUNCATED]

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton



22 replies
  1. Malcolm Swoboda
    Malcolm Swoboda says:

    Pt 2. So yes, what he's talking about, is already happening. Sort of. Like the start of it happening in the 2000s-2010s, but with quite a while to go. There's a difference between the 'publishing' state he talked about for the 1990s emergence of the Internet, and what he's talking about for the future. There is Point Creator –> Point Audience, and there is Many Points People <–> Many Points People, and so far, we still operate in ways that we have 'platforms' that we communicate on (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc etc). If we can unify WHILE still diversifying this tech, we won't need a 'Facebook'. We'll simply have our tech and tap into the overarching Cloud to do whatever we want, exist in whatever we want, and share whatever experiences with others, virtually. A 'living' book, not a static one. Again, sure, we're already doing this.. sort of.

  2. Malcolm Swoboda
    Malcolm Swoboda says:

    Someone in an earlier comment (that I can't reply to) mentioned Twitch game streaming as a form of this. Yes, it is. However, I still think it'll be seen as a very early form of what will be possible. This ultimately may lead into what could be experienced as a virtual multiverse, with highly social creation experiences happening all the time. Forget Web X.0, this would be an evolution of new media. The difference between a 'wiki', and a 'virtual world which operates as a collective wiki experience'. Playing through memories and history, constantly edited and manipulated, instead of watching or reading about it.

  3. kevin christy
    kevin christy says:

    games & entertainment and ppl writing books. making contact is about creating a stable community not a fantasy. it's like this, a person say's i want to be your friend, you don't know maybe, maybe not. a person say's i'm your enemy you can believe it. there is no virtual community just lonely predator's. look at all the protesters, if protesters are your friend then your a protester also. if your friends are successful and young then your probably successful and young also. these are the basis of communities.
    slayerwulfe cave

  4. That1GuyWhosNumber1
    That1GuyWhosNumber1 says:

    The comments he made toward the end of the video regarding crowd created narrative nonfiction storytelling reminds me of Dark Souls, where you can leave messages for other players along the route and it often enhances the experience

  5. Pythag012
    Pythag012 says:

    I couldn't help but think of twitch when he was talking about "collaborative new forms of arts and entertainment" that are "more community orientated". They way the streamers interact with their chat and are building shows around that premise.

  6. Moose Man
    Moose Man says:

    All the people who are saying this is boring or doesn't make any sense really need to get a bit smarter and try re-watching the video. This was an interesting concept that one day I'd like to see.

  7. Lilian
    Lilian says:

    To the speaker: There is already such thing as "croudsourced books", it's called GitBook. There are already over 2400 books written this way, although most of them are programming related books.
    Behind, it uses Git, a project created by the creator of Linux, the most "croudsourced" software in the world(It's the biggest software project in the history of the world, over 2000 developers contribute to it every year – to be more accurate, last year 2013-2014, 3483 developers contributed).

  8. Gold Tager
    Gold Tager says:

    This is literally brilliant in both concept and idea. The concept of having community culture and constant sharing being used in this manner is ingenious. He did however, neglect to say that this commune expression of culture will also create a more accurate representation of peoples thoughts and cultures because they will be updated and edited by multitudes of people.

  9. Dyslexic Artist Theory on the Physics of 'Time'
    Dyslexic Artist Theory on the Physics of 'Time' says:

    I think we will invent new forms of media that will tend to be more community oriented than television or print is that will tend to be more collaborative where many people will be working together creating a roleplaying game or creating some community around a topic, creating like a Wiki that can do almost anything – discuss any topic!!! 

  10. RoryRhino
    RoryRhino says:

    The interactive non-fiction spoken at the end, isnt that the basic principle behind wikipedia? An openly sourced collection of historical data generated by the online community.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *