I have been involved in the computer industry most of my life. I even hold a few internet-based patents with a few more on the way. My experience has varied from programming to analysis to project management to design; I've even gotten my fingers dirty bread-boarding (that is constructing circuits from components to test properties and create on-the-fly, patchwork devices.) When I think of writing a mere article to express the vastness of web technology I am faced with my inadequacies as a writer; my over-complicating nature as a true spirited techno-academic (case in point! ); and my very real limitations of time and space.
During times of intellectual intensity I find it best to step back and deal with first principles. More vital than specifics of web technology is its use; its purpose. What is most important about the web is not the web itself; it is humanity and its use for the web. I decided to find a copy of a very elementary yet historically important book-predating the web as we know it-which speaks of a similar web in a fictional sense. At times we can trace the roots of our human thinking to fiction: after all, any ideology or thoughts of a better world are just fiction until they are actualized.
I went to my library and examined my shelves; I think I must have retired this book long ago. Climbing to my attic, looking through boxes upon boxes of books, still revealed nothing. I was finally fortunate to be able to purchase a version of this text from the local book store (I tried to use the web but I could not get this book fast enough and it certainly was not online!)
This book is truly refreshing-written in a more old-fashioned, less technological style. A style I might dare to call, "poetic" (I think poetry is very important in matters of how technology relates to humanity.) In present day literature we have lost almost all poetry and aesthetic style when we write about technology and things like webs. Some of the older books appear to be more philosophical and general compared to the modern day, laser-like precision of content. With so much knowledge necessary to be a fledgling professional, there is little time to expound upon material beyond terse summaries. Here are just a few examples of extracts from my old-fashioned text:
"When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle." (Quote 1)
"People believe almost anything they see in print."(Quote 2)
"After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die... By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heavens knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."(Quote 3)
This sort of commentary or content is highly unusual in a modern technological setting. I turned to the front of this text and, full of memories, feelings and anticipation read the very first paragraphs:
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
"Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."
"I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight. "Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it."
"Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?" (Quote 4)
Some Pig - Charlotte's first message
As may be evident to some readers, the book to which I refer is Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, a children's book. In English the word "web" used in the vernacular of technology is the same word used to describe the silky structure woven by a spider.
These first paragraphs begin a wonderful tale of salvation, friendship, dedication and humanity (represented through animals.) A laser-like summary of the story could be: Wilbur is a pig born a runt. He is saved from extermination then nurtured through the loving hands of a child, Fern. Later, he is spared from execution by creative weaving of a spider named Charlotte-a true friend.
Most importantly to this writing, Charlotte's Web is poetically apropos as a metaphor for a web as a structure for ideological, foundational messages. I strongly suggest taking a night to read this tale or, better yet: find a child who has never heard it and read it to them.
Let's take a step back. The internet has two (2) aspects: its technology-a tool, and its use. For many people, its use is most relevant whereas the miracle of its existence (remember quote 1) is relegated to mere potential interest. I do not believe these aspects are really very different: they are just different forms created by the same human process; sometimes this process is used to work on the web (creation of more efficient technology) and sometimes this process is used to work in the web (creation and organization of content using the web as a tool.)
In the case of Charlotte the spider, she worked on her web by building it in a corner of a doorway, and within her web by using it as a tool to catch bugs and write words. In comparison we prefer to de-bug our web and have it remain bug-free yet we certainly use it to write words. Of course, the most important part of Charlotte's web (and the human internet web) is not the web technology or the writing. It is the meaning and effect of what is written: the process itself is just a tool.
Terrific - Charlotte's second message
Terrific has two (2) basic meanings: 1. Extremely good; wonderful. 2. Causing terror; terrifying. We choose which best applies.
We stand at the beginnings of the foundation of the rest of human history. How we think about and build this foundation will affect humankind forevermore. This foundation is our data. This foundation is our words. Most importantly, this foundation is the meaning we create by our words.
How would our history books read today if Germany had won World War II? Well, although Hitler would probably be seen as a hero, one might hope there would be enclaves of people who would record the "truth." Of course, if Hitler was so structurally powerful he could eliminate all such enclaves then the history of the world would be irreversibly changed-a lie with no counter references becomes truth.
The world-wide web is an organic extension of human thinking and philosophy. The ethics of using this tool have yet to match the tool's power. Even 10 years ago the internet was not nearly as world-wide, and news (ultimately our history) was not nearly as present, global or effective. The web is so structurally powerful it could facilitate the substitution of lies for truth, literally subverting history. Currently, this potential result depends largely on the net informational effect of our media-minded culture. How much do people believe of what they read (remember quote 2)?
Charlotte carefully thought and picked the message she was to write in the web. She knew such a message could determine the life or death of Wilbur the pig. She knew people would believe what she wrote.
A similar process of creating and propagating such messages is the issue of our time. A short time ago, much of what was news remained local. Data enclaves on one hand preserved humanity's ability to ultimately find truth through independent accounts of data later to become history. On the other hand, they limited potentially important data from affecting the rest of the world.
The globally unifying effect of the web on one hand propagates data world-wide and facilitates tremendous synergy. On the other hand, it distorts the data and may destroy all possibility of independent data verification by creating co-effects between data sources and tainting isolated independence.
Radiant - Charlotte's third message
Here are two (2) definitions of radiant: 1. Joyful, Hopeful. 2. A point or object from which rays proceed. We choose which best applies.
The global communication network connects humans in almost uncountable combinations, facilitates a world society and culture, and ultimately unites humanity. In the brightest of futures, we uphold our responsibilities to each other and future generations through the ethical use of this resource. The effects of our lives will emanate from now until the end of human time upholding noble values recorded in light, readable as words and pictures.
Sadly, there is a potential of a global communication network were truth is changed irreversibly through disproportionate representation. Disproportionate representation is the ignoble use of power to overcome truth; where "loudness" is a value superior to validity-in effect the killing of a less politically powerful truth by a falsehood (remember quote 4.)
In either case, our present is a point from which rays of information proceed. Everything we write on the internet, no matter how small, has global effects-and those effects will propagate for the rest of human history. Will those effects be rays of joy and hope or power driven falsehoods foisted as, and ultimately becoming, reality? We now are initiating the future legacy of humanity. If we are not loyal to reality-if we do not approach this task with noble joy-no amount of compensation will rectify our effects.
Will we be willing to uphold the heroic image of Charlotte who purposefully kept a faith and upheld honor?
Wilbur: Then write this in your webs, when you learn: This hallowed doorway was once the home of Charlotte. She was brilliant, beautiful, and loyal to the end. Her memory will be treasured forever.
(Charlotte's daughters): Ooh, that would take us a lifetime.
Wilbur: A lifetime. That's what we have.
Humble - Charlotte's final message
If you think about it, it is quite a responsibility: write a little something on the internet and it will become part of human recorded history-forever! If one considers global human history as starting just a few years ago, we do find ourselves positioning the bottom-most cornerstones on which the rest of human history will be built-forever. How carefully should we place such cornerstones? How carefully should Charlotte consider what she writes on her web? How carefully should we consider what we write on our web? Do you think we currently live up to this challenge?
If humanity is to grow beyond being a savage arrogant jungle, we as members must think; must care; must love. We must be willing to help each other thereby lifting ourselves up just a trifle (remember quote 3.) When we write anything to the foundation of human history we must view it as a type of responsibility entrusted to us by a thousand, thousand future generations-our messages will persist, with their effects, long after we are gone. Global data and communication has elevated the position of writer to one of humanity's highest, most sacred, offices. I can only hope each of us, in our capacity as a Charlotte, approaches this work as humanity's friend.
Narrator: Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.