This is your brain. This is your brain on Web 2.0.

John Newton, reflecting on the “Geek’s Dinner” held during the World Economic Forum in Davos, describes a kind of epiphany he had regarding Web 2.0:

When you think about the touchstones of Web 2.0 like Google Maps, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace and Second Life, it all falls into place. When the last generation says that there is nothing new here, it is because they cannot see it. They see the technology, which has not moved on significantly, and miss the nuance and conceptual difference. There have been technological changes to be able to better express either abstract concept or spatial relationships, such as AJAX and the virtual world of Second Life, but these pale in the change in accessibility of internet services. First generation was created for the people who built the internet and second generation is for everyone else who isn’t left brain.

He goes on to suggest “the Right Web” as a replacement for Web 2.0. I can’t follow him there, perhaps in part becuase Left and Right are too loaded in the U.S. with political overtones. (I’m not lining up behind any Right Web). It also doesn’t seem too useful to me to exchange the Web 1.0 versus Web 2.0 discussion with a “Left Web” versus “Right Web” discussion – both are too binary and oversimplify the difference.

But I do think he’s on to something interesting, in terms of a resurgence (not that there wasn’t plenty of right-brained thinking in the first generation of web applications, or in the very creation of the web itself) of interests in the aspects of the web which are non-technical, or not immediately technology oriented.

If, as in the Wikipedia article Newton cites, the characteristics of Right brain thinking include philosphy, abstract concepts, artistic ability, and holistic reasoning, it certainly makes sense to see the current energy and excitement around social media, user generated content, and network effects of mass participation as a Right brain phenomenon. (Again, not a replacement of the Left Brain aspects -there is after all a lot of technology in play here which requires linear, concrete thinking to develop).

If you’re interested in the whole Left/Right brain phenomenon, you should check out Daniel H. Pink and his book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Before (or in addition to) getting the book, there’s a great episode of On Point with Pink as a guest, which you can stream online: The Dawning Age of the Right Brain.

His argument is essentially that right-brained (creative, empathetic, and pattern-sensing) thinking is what will be required for the 21st century. As a result of Abundance, Asia, and Automation, the classic left-brain approaches are rapidly becoming less valuable – the future belongs to right-brained thinkers. (The difference between “people who make it” and “people who don’t” will be their mastery of right-brained thinking).

As much as I’d like to believe him, having gotten a PhD in English (American Literature and Culture) and now working in high tech, I’m reluctant to accept any approach which says that one side of the Brain is becoming ascendent over the other, without an awful lot of contextualization and complication (which Pink does to a large degree, given time to articulate the full argument).

Certainly all would agree that in order for the Internet/Web to function, we’re going to need an awful lot of left and right brain thinking. Perhaps what Newton was sensing is the current pendulum swing back from a pure technology enabling focus to a “what can we use this platform to do” focus where creativity, innovation, and conceptual reimagining are at the forefront.