Today, I spoke to Bill Davidow, who was the former senior vice president of marketing and sales for Intel, and is the author of Overconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet. In this interview, Bill talks about the downside of having too many connections online, examples of how it can hurt society, and more.
Is there a downside to being overconnected through the internet?
By my definition being overconnected is always bad. Being overconnected means that things are out of step. Financial institutions use overconnectivity to outrun regulators. The results are things like the Financial Crash of 2008 and the meltdown of the Icelandic economy. The loss of personal privacy is another overconnectivity effect. As a result of overconnectivity, corporations can collect data in ways the government is prohibited from doing under the 1974 Privacy Act.
Why did you decide to write “Overconnected” and focus on the inherent dangers of the internet instead of the positives?
To get the best from the Internet, we have to understand the challenges it presents. The power of the Internet is being abused. The abuses cause problems. My goal was to better educate people about why the Internet was so powerful so they would use it more effectively and deal with the potential challenges it presents before the problems raced out of control. If regulators had understood the power of the Internet, they would have been in a better position to deal with the 2008 Financial Crisis.
Can you give a few examples of why being overconnected can be a danger to society?
The clearest examples come from the financial world. The Internet facilitated processes that led to the 2008 Financial Crash, the financial meltdown in Iceland, and the May 6 Flash Crash on Wall Street. There are lots of others. The Internet has made information free. In the process it has removed a lot of the profit from journalism. We are currently living off journalistic capital built up in the past. If we don’t find a way to turn the situation around, investigative journalism, one of the bulwarks of democracy, will wither away. People will write fewer books.
Which industries are the most effected by your theory?
Industries that depend most heavily on information are the ones that will be most deeply effected–financial, publishing, entertainment–it is just bits. Manufacturing is very information intensive as is engineering. If you can move information effectively you can move the associated jobs anywhere. So those workers will have to compete in the global market.
How does social networks, like Facebook, play a role in the overconnected society?
There is institutional overconnectivity and social overconnectivity. Social networks are part of the later. For 2.5 million years our minds, bodies, and brains coevolved with our tools in physical space. In the past 25 years we have started to live in virtual space. If evolution had shaped our brains and senses for virtual space, they would be very different than the ones we have. Maybe we would have two sets of ears–one for earbuds and music and a second set to hear the car that was going to run us over when we were jogging.
Bill Davidow has been a high-technology industry executive and a venture investor for more than 30 years. He continues to act as an active advisor to Mohr Davidow Ventures, a venture capital firm. Davidow is the author of Overconnected (2011), Marketing High Technology and a co-author of Total Customer Service and The Virtual Corporation. While at Intel, Bill served as senior vice president of marketing and sales, vice president of the microcomputer division and vice president of the microcomputer systems division. Prior to Intel Corp., Bill worked in various managerial positions at Hewlett Packard and General Electric. Bill’s community involvement extends to serving on the boards of California Institute of Technology and Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. He also sits on the Foundation Board of the University of California, San Francisco, and on the Board of the California Nature Conservancy.