Many people recently were openly puzzled, annoyed, confused, inspired and generally curious about what Prince meant when he said "The Internet's completely over". That sound-bite was part of an interview given to Peter Willis (from the Mirror.co.uk) and here's the quote in its entirety: "The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it. The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."
Now the media pundits focused on Prince's stand against the lack of control artists have over their material. The techno experts were calling Prince some type of technology Luddite who has not yet learned how to warm himself by the glow of the techno light. And finally, the music entertainment crowd simply was amazed at the irony of the whole sketch; "Every website covered his new album which is delivered via the Internet." This crowd perceived this as a marketing stunt - incredibly clever or diabolical depending on your perspective on the artist.
Yet within all the digital ink written on the subject, "Judy Consumer" is still puzzled about what he might have meant. After all, this incredible talent (whether you are a fan or not), clearly had a message -- what could it be?
Let's strip away all the hyperbole, and we see he is clearly expressing a very direct, emotional human reaction to the thing we call Internet. He is sensing that our evolution to a digitized world leaves something out; "They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you." Perhaps, he was wondering out loud that, in our rush to reach the digital singularity (to borrow the term from Kuzweil) - that moment when the digital stage becomes the platform of our biological lives - the sheer scope, scale and size of the mega-Internet subsumes the human spirit, "...and that can't be good".
In response, our human nature looks to break down or "decompose" the mega-Internet back down to human scale and in this sense the "mega-Internet" is indeed over. But clearly Internet needs to "devolve" to a human scale since it is not just going away. How do we do that?
To my way of thinking, we scale the Internet down the same way we scale down the generic real world society we live in - by introducing trust so we can carve out for ourselves personal networks that we can depend on. It might sound strange to throw so much weight behind trust - but think about it with me for a moment. Trust is probably the most important aspect of our humanity that allows us live in a human scaled society. Starting from birth, quite literally, we rely on trust for our survival - we need to trust those that take care of us, those that befriend us and those that do business with us. Yet today on Internet, we can not easily determine who to trust online, which information is credible or even which sites can be trusted to protect us and our information. Simply put, the Internet, in its current "version" (to use software term) is not equipped to create the bedrock of our digital humanity - our ability to establish trust between digital citizens. Yes - we can "secure" our machines or even transactions - but that is a far cry from creating trust online.
So is the Internet over? I think so and it is being replaced by the more human-scaled The Trust Web.
Nor is this idea as far fetched as you might think because guess what - Judy Consumer is building The Trust Web for herself - by herself (almost) because big companies are still too busy creating the big, mega, overwhelming, hyper digitalized Internet. Yet Judy Consumer is quietly learning how to fill the trust gap for herself by creating and participating in intimate social networks with more trusted digital relationships. She is increasingly spending her money with local merchants via Craigslist rather than eBay (just look at annual trend for eBay for instance). She is learning how to create more trusted digital transactions by being savvy about which sites can be verified and which are shady. She is learning how to create "personalized" home portals carved out of the massive Internet content mountain so she can have a stream of information she can trust.
Judy Consumer is not waiting for businesses to catch up with her. She is building her own personal Internet called The Trust Web. In the end, I have no idea if Prince was thinking about any, or maybe he was just telling us something that Judy Consumer already instinctively knew - the Internet is really so over.
RIP Internet. Welcome The Trust Web!
A postscript to my tech friends. If any of you are working on any technology that you think helps Judy Consumer establish trust online - give me a shout. We want to get the word out.