On Distributed Society. The History of the Internet as a Guide to a Sociological Understanding of Communication and Society
As early as 1960, the Internet pioneer J. C. R. Licklider stated: " In due course [the
computer] will be part of the formulation of problems: part of real-time thinking, problemsolving,
doing of research, conducting of experiments, getting into the literature and finding
references... And it will mediate and facilitate communication among human beings.
Licklider expressed the hope that the computer “ through its contribution to formulative
thinking... will help us understand the structure of ideas, the nature of intellectual
processes. The “most important present function of the digital computer in the university
should be to catalyse the development of computer science.
And so it did. As the ARPANET and other network experiments unfolded in the sixties and
seventies, the computer as a medium inspired the transition of computer science towards
information science. I think it is possible and potentially constructive to go even further. In
due course, to paraphrase Licklider, one important function of the Internet may be to inform
our "formulative thinking" about society itself. The Internet may help to catalyse not only
the development of computer and information science, but sociology and social theory as
well. In what follows, "innovation" will refer precisely applying the Internet as a design or
as an inspiration for the understanding of what society is.