Andy Armstrong works at the BBC and lead the team that live streamed the Olympics so he should have a good idea of what he’s talking about.
He’s idea for masterpieces are those things that digital has created that have truly changed the world – although for better or worse is often still in question.
First – Google. As he says, ‘apart from anything else I genuinely don’t know whether I love or loath them. But they’ve already changed the world forever and they’re not done yet.’
Second – Wikipedia which has gone from zero to being the World’s primary source for information about anything. It’s amazing that it started from nothing only twelve years ago. You can read its history here.
Third – Open Street Map which has done the same for maps. ‘Zero to extremely comprehensive open source mapping of most of the planet in just a few years. They’re considered the authoritative source of maps in Cuba – where American mapping corporations aren’t allowed to go and Europeans can’t be bothered. All done by local folk strolling around with their GPSs. The power of amateurs is a stirring thing. One day we’ll all be proud to consider ourselves amateur.’
Fourth – ‘cultural masterpieces like the free software movement which, as software as become more central to everything, has spun off into a whole bunch of other strands of activism that keep an eye on our digital liberties and without which the world would be a harsher place.’
And finally, two more contenders for places too – the BBC Micro a masterpiece of a different kind (one of the first microprocessors for general use in schools) and for a different age and also the Raspberry Pi (which Andy demonstrated for us at Open Circuit and which is coming down to Brighton for the weekend too).
I don’t think I believe in the idea of a digital masterpiece – in the sense of something constructed with the intention of being great. Seems ridiculously presumptuous given that you shouldn’t know where you’re going to end up if you’re really doing new stuff.
Seems like the perfect introduction to the Short Circuit weekend coming soon – we’re up for serious, focused play – without specific ends in mind. Thats where learning and true innovation starts. And we’ve a whole weekend of it.