The social networking success story launched by Facebook and others has now generated what will soon likely be known as “the second tech bubble”. Enormous amounts of investment capital are again being directed toward high-profile internet start-ups, and as always it’s generating a lot of attention for innovative ideas. And while I have no delusions that this bubble will last, I am quite glad that these sorts of concepts are now reaching a wide audience.

One of the big recent news stories is $10 million in new investment for Makerbot from an “all-star cast” of venture capitalists. Makerbots are 3D-printers, able to print open-source designs found online. So far over 5000 kits have been produced, including a computer-controlled cupcake printing edition, and this promises to put many more out there. 3D printing is one of the most exciting frontiers of the open-source hardware movement right now, since it not only allows for in-home production, but also can be used to make more machines like it.

The other recent story which caught my eye was the launch of Skillshare, an online networking service designed to connect people for (you guessed it) skillshares and earn money doing it. It works much like Hamilton’s anarchist Freeskool – you can teach or organize a class on any topic, for any price, but the company gets a cut. So far they’ve recieved a more modest investment of $3.1 million.

Both of these examples demonstrate how new communications technologies are changing the way we relate to each other, not just the speed at which it happens. The idea of a “social network” is in many ways the best expression of the new libertarian spirit of our age – free, easy and unmediated connections between anybody, anywhere. These notions have the potential to transform production, education and other aspects of our society in really interesting ways. At the same time, though, companies like Facebook are demonstrating how easily this can all turn into a pervasive surveillance society in which nearly everything we say and do is on permanent record. Added to this, investment isn’t charity, and investors always want something in return. We’ll soon see what kind of changes result from this kind of investment. Only time will tell which of these two forces win out, and only then will we know whether the internet was truly as beneficial as some would suggest, or as terrifying as others warn.

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