Weaving is an art practiced since ancient times. Fragments of fabric dating to 5000 B.C. mean this art pre-dates the fabrication of papyrus in 3000 B.C. in Egypt. The art of weaving, its cultural and economic ecosystem, and the tremendous volume of innovation over the centuries that stems from weaving make for an apt and powerful analogy to understand the potential of the next phase of Internet and economic development.
In weaving, threads and yarns are essential. Threads are hooked to the physical loom, converting them into warp threads. Each warp thread passes through a heddle, which lifts and lowers the warp threads, creating a shed. The shed allows the weft thread to pass back and forth through the warp threads on a shuttle to create fabric.
Over time, looms become faster and mechanically driven and their complexity increased. The Dobby loom, for example, created up to 256 sheds, which allowed the weft passing through them to create more complex fabrics. One interesting advance in Dobby looms was the new Jacquard head, which mounted atop a Dobby loom and used punch cards (later used for computer programming) to direct the various sequences and operations. Every loom had a weaver that would manage the creation of the fabric and roll it up on a take up device as the many operations were repeated. From an ecosystem perspective, the fabric created by these weavers became either a finished product or an input to produce still more complex textiles.
What does the 7,000 year-old weaving industry have to do with the Internet? A properly architected Internet helps us understand the potential of a new weaving ecosystem – a system in which digital information, not physical threads, are woven in new, complex, and more productive ways, liberating us from physical threads and looms. and facilitating an entirely new social and economic fabric.
We, as individuals, are the threads and the yarn of an evolving Internet. In the virtual world, however, these threads can be woven into an infinite number of fabrics. For that matter, a warp thread in one fabric could be a weft thread in another fabric. And multiple weavers could mesh their respective fabrics into new designs, creating new fabrics while protecting particular threads.
Looms, liberated from their physical limitations, allow us to imagine some wild new concepts. First, a multidimensional loom can produce fabric in multiple directions and dimensions. The take up of our new Internet looms can exist in as many places as there are weavers. Similarly, the new looms are also not limited by having heddles and heads that only exist “above” the fabric-making operation. In the virtual space of the Internet, there is no longer an above or a below, so the heddles can be multidimensional, allowing for the 21st century Jacquard heads to drive new fabrics and designs from any direction, or dimension.
From health to education to finance and beyond, the ability to bring together people, concepts, and ideas (threads) in new ways is an invigorating journey. Our “weavers” of the future can design beautiful new fabrics from cures to cancer to dynamic global learning communities to rapidly evolving financial models. When thread and fabric are unleashed, when weaver and woven can dynamically change places, when loom and head are released from the bonds of the physical, the Internet can become remarkably more useful. By applying an end of linearity to how we think about the Internet, we can begin to understand the potential beauty of what Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn created. It is a connector of people, not of Web pages, and it is at the heart of a new rewoven future.