Susan Crawford, writing about David Post’s forthcoming book and his search for the The Moose of Cyberspace:
In the prologue, David tells the story of Jefferson fighting against the Old World belief that animals and humans degenerated in the New World — that every creature was smaller and less powerful in American than it was in Europe. To prove his point, Jefferson had an entire [dead] moose shipped to Paris and reconstituted in stuffed form in his entrance hall. There, see? Things are large in America! That moose was seven feet tall. (You can read another account of this controversy here.)
David wants to put Jefferson’s ideas to work in describing cyberspace as a new place — he’s writing his “notes on cyberspace” to reflect Jefferson’s “notes on the State of Virginia.”
The great question for me, and the question I put to my class today, is: What is the moose of cyberspace? What’s the thing you’d show people to convince them that the internet is hugely different from a telephone network or a broadcast system and that entirely new things are possible there? We’ve got this unbelievable group-forming-network-of-networks — how do we show people what it is?
Several people said Wikipedia is the moose of cyberspace — an amazing encyclopedia created by everyone. There were also strong voices for eBay and Google. Imagine having knowledge at your fingertips, 1/4 of a second away! That’s big.
So — what do you think is the moose of cyberspace?
Ten or more years ago, I would have said PGP or some other asymmetric encryption system. My vote today is for Google. Except of course that it’s a cheat, as Google is only magic because of all the content it makes available, so to say ‘Google’ is to in some sense just reference the whole thing.
(And of course, PGP didn’t turn out to be a very smart or lasting choice. Will Google?)