David Gergen, editor at large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Esther Dyson. Sheís president of EDventure Holdings, a company focusing on emerging information technology worldwide, especially in Russia and Eastern Europe. Sheís also the author of Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age.
DAVID GERGEN: Esther, many people think of you as the guru of the Internet, the Pied Piper of the cyberspace. When you think about the Internet, what do you think about? What does it mean to you?
ESTHER DYSON, Author, "Release 2.0:" Well, the Internet means a lot of different things to many different people. And thatís sort of--thatís why itís so hard to explain. Itís a technical communications system. And you can use it for everything from distributing television programs. It can be used as kind of a giant library. It gives you access to a huge repository of information, but for me the Internet--the net, if you like, the thing that I think is going to change society that has political implications, that is really two-way communications. A lot of it is E-mail. In the future there will be more video real time, but the fundamental difference is itís not broadcast television. Itís not one guy, one central authority sending out a message. Itís not propaganda. Itís closer to being conspiracy. Itís two people communication, four people, one guy sending a message to ten people, another guy forwarding that. And itís all about interaction with people. Itís not a giant library. To me itís a giant telephone system that keeps records.
DAVID GERGEN: You say in the book in one passage it will have a profound impact on institutions but not on human nature. Another place you say it will suck power from the mass media, from big business, and from government.
ESTHER DYSON: Right. And being a champion of the small guy I think thatís good because having spent time in Russia, having spent time watching cute little companies grow old and hardened, I just think small--if you had to pick between a small thing and a large thing--the large thing is probably going to be more rigid, more bureaucratic, and possibly more corrupt. And so itís very hard to make general rules. But the presumption has got to be in favor of individual freedoms, small things with no power that havenít learned to abuse power.
DAVID GERGEN: Why does the net suck power then from the large institutions?
ESTHER DYSON: Well, let me take the media for starters. You send messages out to a large community of listeners. Itís pretty difficult for them to send messages back. On the Internet the speaker and the listener are pretty much equivalent. Theyíre actually interacting on an equal basis. Whatís even more scary to the central powers is you may speak and the listeners will communicate with one another, and theyíll bypass the center, so that the ability to speak and be heard kind of get sucked out and more individuals have more power to speak, to talk back, and to bypass you. Same thing happens to big business, obviously. The customers--not only do they have more choice but they can choose to ignore you and talk to other consumers. Companies that are used to sending out PR messages get very disconcerted when their customers talk about them to one another and bypass them, and, of course, the same thing happens to government.
DAVID GERGEN: Interestingly enough, the nonprofit world, you think, will grow from this, the nonprofit institutions will have more authority because theyíll be able to communicate, I guess, more easily across national boundaries.
ESTHER DYSON: Yes. Whatís really happening is over the last hundred years itís been a huge advantage to have economies of scale. The bigger you got, the more efficient you could get, the more power you had. And now the economies of scale are gone. One guy is one millionth as powerful as one million people, not one hundred millionth. Suddenly, the individual can go out and get resources on the net, can find an audience as large as he can handle. And so nonprofits tend to be small, and they tend to reflect the interests of one or two fanatics who care about something. George Soros has a lot of money, and thatís given him power. But now you can have more people who have much less money than George Soros doing essentially the same things on a smaller scale because they donít need the economies of scale that that huge wealth gives you.
DAVID GERGEN: Will the net change education as much as it changes business?
ESTHER DYSON: I donít really think so because business is about efficiency, of economies of scale, and those economies are going away. Education, unfortunately, as weíve discovered, it doesnít have economies of scale. Education is always going to be about something happening in a single personís head millions of times over, and what makes it happen is a teacher, itís experience. The net can be part of what kids learn about and what kids learn with. It can be a teaching tool, but youíre not--that experience of education still requires time, social interaction. It requires role models, and so I donít think itís going to change that fundamentally. I hope there will be better information so that schools will be pressured to improve, but the process, itself, no.
DAVID GERGEN: And you suggest in one passage in the book that actually the written word is important for helping one to think, to conceptualize--
ESTHER DYSON: Yes.
DAVID GERGEN: --and that the net doesnít necessarily help you do that.
ESTHER DYSON: No. I think in words; so do most people. Some people think somewhat more visually, but you need symbols. And just a bunch of images doesnít help you understand situations and consequences. It doesnít help you understand--you understand thereís a relationship when you see two things together but you donít know whatís cause and effect. You donít--you lose the ability to generalize, to make abstractions. I mean, learning is about mental models. Itís not about images.
DAVID GERGEN: So that you would argue that children growing up should be exposed to the net but they should also be encouraged to read a great deal?
ESTHER DYSON: Well, and they can read on the net too.
DAVID GERGEN: Right.
ESTHER DYSON: But what distresses me about the net is its chunkiness. You donít follow a train of thought. You donít read an essay. I mean, if you look back in history, Abraham Lincoln used to give three hour speeches and people would listen, transfixed. He wouldnít get elected nowadays.
DAVID GERGEN: Unfortunately I think thatís right. In just in the same way so much has been sped up, you say that life will speed up even more on the net, that human nature wonít change, but weíll have to live faster, in effect.
ESTHER DYSON: Well, yes and no. It probably will speed up but at the same time I donít have a home phone. People need to make their own decisions, to just say, oh, life is going so fast, you know, it is your choice what tools to use, whether to leave your cell phone on at night. I mean, you may have a boss who sends you E-mail, but then itís your boss thatís the problem, not the E-mail.
DAVID GERGEN: Can we talk about your life just a moment?
ESTHER DYSON: Sure.
DAVID GERGEN: Because many people think about Esther Dyson and say, well, I wonder if sheís the prototype of the future. You spend a couple of hours a day on the net with E-mail.
ESTHER DYSON: Yes. It varies. Usually with E-mail, not surfing the Web.
DAVID GERGEN: Right, right. But you donít have a home phone. But how many messages do you send back and forth on a typical day?
ESTHER DYSON: Well, if Iíve been on the net the day before, then itís more, because Iím answering the answers, but somewhere between fifty and a hundred would be typical. Now, thatís a lot.
DAVID GERGEN: Exchanges, yes.
ESTHER DYSON: Yes. And I donít think Iím typical. You know, Iím a real human being. Iím warm. I have friends. I love people, but my maternal instinct is mostly spent on Russia and Eastern Europe, and I love families. I love kids. I donít have my own, so Iím not trying to say people should live like me. They should pick their own lifestyle and follow it because it suits them.
DAVID GERGEN: But the communication and the emphasis of finding people out around the world--and you communicate every day with people all over the world.
ESTHER DYSON: Yes.
DAVID GERGEN: Fifty to a hundred messages a day.
ESTHER DYSON: And most of them Iíve met physically. E-mail lets me travel more. It keeps me connected to the office, but you canít--itís really hard to build relationships across cultures, and E-mail helps you maintain them. But creating them first--Iím a big fan of physical contact.
DAVID GERGEN: I understand. Well, weíll look forward to "Release 3.0?"
ESTHER DYSON: Thank you, and "Release 2.1" before that.
DAVID GERGEN: All right. Thanks, Esther Dyson.