Old elites beware! Your time is up! Become the new elite today! That's the message of this intriguing, fascinating, and thought-provoking look at what's already happened on the Internet.
I not only thought that this is the best book about the social effects of the Internet, I also think it is by far Michael Lewis's best work.
This book deserves many more than five stars as a result.
The original idea was simple. There are all of these people making a big splash on the Internet as individuals. Let's go meet them in person and find out what's really going on. Believe me, it's different from what you read in the newspapers or saw on television. With the aid of a researching crew from the BBC, Mr. Lewis found that the cutting edge of the Internet revolution was going on with 11-14 year olds. Soon, it will probably drift lower in age.
Because the Internet lets you play on a equal footing and assume any identity you choose, youngsters with guts and quick minds can take on major roles. Usually, their parents have no clue until adults or major authority figures start arriving on their doorstep challenging what the youngster is doing or seeking personal advice.
The core of the book revolves around the stories of Jonathan Lebed who used chat room commentaries to help drive his $8,000 stake into over $800,000 in less than three years, Marcus in Perris, California who became Askme.com's leading criminal law expert based on his watching of court TV shows, and Justin Frankel who became an important developer of Gnutella for filesharing while having trouble getting an education in school.
Mr. Lewis makes the point that these youngsters weren't doing anything that their elders don't do in other forums. Yet the established authorities deeply resented and challenged them. Mr. Lewis suggests that the old elites "get a life." Their day is over. He uses the analogy of his father's refusal to adapt his law practice to the methods of personal injury lawyers using billboards and television ads to show this is how the existing elites always respond . . . by condemning and trying to ignore the new.
At the same time, Mr. Lewis raises several important questions that will stay with you. After having been king of the hill for your 15 minutes of fame at 15, how will you feel about the rest of your life as an also-ran? His portrayal of Danny Hillis's project to create the 10,000 year clock captures that point very well. He also lampoons Bill Joy's arguments that the Unabomber had it right that we (the existing elites) need to constrain technology.
The basic point is that economic and social effectiveness will rest on the foundation of how effective you can be rather than who you are, what degrees you have, what age you are, or who you know. In other words, the Internet has added another degree of leveling to our society. Surely, that's good.
I'm a little more optimistic than Mr. Lewis about the implications. I think that many people will find the lower barriers to entry provide them the chance to develop themselves more than would otherwise happen. What they learn as youngsters can be used in new ways on broader canvases later in life. For example, Jonathan will probably become a great marketing guru. Marcus has the seeds of a marvelous counselor, attorney, or columnist in him. Justin will probably create masterful new software structures that will make sharing easier and more effective. Those are potentially beautiful futures for these young men.
Child prodigies have always been with us. The lessons for those based in the Internet will be the same as for those who did it in music or the motion pictures. You have to keep developing yourself, have sound values, and prepare for an adult role that you enjoy and are good at. I do feel for the parents of these young people. They are the ones with the big challenge!
After you finish enjoying this wonderful book, I suggest that you think about where you can pursue lifelong interests on the Internet! You can go back to being 11 again, too!