DS: Simon, is the internet making the web more human?
SM: I think it is. Specifically, I mean social media on the internet. On several levels it is teaching us to be human again because, when we can experience the suffering of others or the lives of others in real time, it reawakens in us our innate empathy for each other. When you can see people in Haiti caught between the floors of buildings in real time, birds covered in oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or the victims of the Pakistan floods it’s really tapping into our innate nature to reach out to each other and support each other. At the same time, it allows us to respond just as quickly, so whether it’s texting a donation or sharing content about something you care about, it allows us to experience the life of someone else in real time, and to respond and help if we want to. If I had to sum it up in one short phrase, it would be “The bliss of ignorance is being replaced by the responsibility of awareness.” Because we can experience each other’s lives in real time, we can no longer ignore it. We can no longer say “That’s happening on the other side of the world or in a different country.” We see it, we experience it and we can respond.
DS: How important is curation for the online experience?
SM: Curation is incredible because, I don’t know what you feel like, but I think five years ago we were all enamored with the Internet. It was like this fantastic banquet table of information. Now we’ve eaten our fill and we can’t stand it any more, in which case we’re shifting from consumption mode of information to filter mode. We’re looking for what’s meaningful to us, and as such, we’re all effectively becoming curators, both in terms of what we take in and what we share. Now there are tools allowing us to do that more effectively. Of necessity, there’s so much information out there that it’s becoming a burden and so we need to filter out what we don’t want to hear.
DS: Do you think that digital and physical experiences can come together?
SM: I think there is an increasing merger between the online and offline world. You see it in virtual currencies. For example, you can by Facebook ad for Amex points. You can see virtual goods in a game like Farmville being used to raise funds for donations towards earthquake victims in Haiti or the tsunami in Japan. The friends that we have on Twitter, we actually consider them friends. They’re not some virtual equivalent of a friend as they were a few years ago. We know their minds even if we haven’t met them in real life. We’re relatively old, I’m sad to say! But imagine the young kids that grew up post mouse, who don’t even know what a mouse is. I was at a conference and a gentleman showed a photograph of his kid in a diaper, standing up at the television screen, touching it and wondering why he couldn’t change the channel by touching the screen. That’s what we’re dealing with. It’s interesting—there’s some research in China that shows that if you ask young people if they use the internet, they’ll say no. But if you ask them if they use Facebook or some other platform, they’ll say yes. Their Internet is like our electricity. We take it for granted. That’s the marketplace of the future. Sadly, we’re still relevant, but we’re not the ones driving the future.
In your mind what are the most exciting future trends? Which will be more important, mobile, social or gaming?