The big sort
Kevin Kelly argues that the most important breakthrough in the history of mankind was the invention of language.
Before language, we were wild animals. After language, humans as a species took a huge leap forward. Language allowed us to coordinate, to teach and to learn.
The second great breakthrough on this axis was writing. Writing is language solidified. Writing permits language to travel through time or over distances. It ensures that ideas last more than one generation.
Now, we're on the cusp of the third breakthrough, one that is proving to be as powerful as the other two. And we're living through it, not reading about it history books...
We've taken the smartest and richest people on earth, hundreds of millions of them, and put them to work sorting and organizing and polishing data.
We're sorting everything. Not just which videos are imitations of other videos, but identifying local breakthroughs and spreading them around the world, highlighting problems or insights and leveraging them and connecting resources to each other in ways that create massive amounts of leverage.
Think about all those folks checking their Blackberry, upvoting Digg articles, retweeting links and connecting people to ideas online. Think about the human enabled filtering, a giant system working without obvious compensation.
Right now, the big sort focuses on finding clever viral videos, but it won't for long. The power of this coordination is so huge it won't stop with building Wikipedia and turning the founder of ChatRoulette into a millionaire. Instead, the big sort will relentlessly find and connect and spread ideas that generate productivity and impact.