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Person of the Year: You.

Dave » 13 years 45 weeks ago

Every year since 1927, Time Magazine has dedicated an issue to profiling the man, woman, couple, group, idea, place, or machine that “for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year.”  In 1982 (the year I was born coincidentally) the computer graced the special cover.  From that profile:

Now, thanks to the transistor and the silicon chip, the computer has been reduced so dramatically in both bulk and price that it is accessible to millions. In 1982 a cascade of computers beeped and blipped their way into the American office, the American school, the American home. The “information revolution” that futurists have long predicted has arrived, bringing with it the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work, perhaps even in the way they think. America will never be the same.


So the revolution has begun, and as usually happens with revolutions, nobody can agree on where it is going or how it will end. [One person quoted] believes the personal computer, like television, can “greatly increase the forces of both good and evil.” [Another person quoted] believes the key significance of the personal computer is not the establishment of an intellectual ruling class, as some fear, but rather a kind of democratization of the new technology. Says he: “The desktop revolution has brought the tools that only professionals have had into the hands of the public. God knows what will happen now.”

“God knows what will happen now.”  Well, 24 years later we can at least see what’s happened since, and Time’s profile certainly captured a defining point with broad implications in the unfolding of what was to come.  I think history will prove them right on with this year’s choice as well.  Their choice for 2006 Person of the Year?  You.  (Yes, you.)  From
the cover story:

 It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. Not the Web that Tim Berners-Lee hacked together (15 years ago, according to Wikipedia) as a way for scientists to share research. It’s not even the overhyped dotcom Web of the late 1990s. The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it’s really a revolution.

With their choice, Time has recognized that we’re at the beginnings of a sea change in how we interact with our world and how our world interacts with us, a move away from “top down” to “bottom up”.  For me, it’s an obvious choice — I see the immense (and historically unprecedented) potential of information technology, and how it can empower us by giving us more insight, more reach, and more power to effectuate change, together. Globalization, in my opinion, is the greatest event of our time, and the information revolution is fueling it. I wish Time had devoted more space to the real story — how many of us are reaching further than ever before, working together as never before.

Fear not, naysayers.  I see the industry as a whole moving beyond YouTube and MySpace and working to really channel the potential of the masses towards greater purposes.  I keep saying that we’re just getting started, that all of this is in its nascent stages.  Time, too, recognizes that this is only the beginning of what’s to come.