The following is my reply to comments that were sent to me about my remarks concerning the impact of the Internet. In it the writer is asking in part if my comments are overblown. In my reply I present what are most certainly unpopular views about the future catastrophe we as a society can expect to face as well as comments about the inherent and circular nature of racism which arose from these questions. I felt that it was a particularly interesting exchange and one that took a slightly different turn from what I had envisioned as a complete statement. It is good to see that there are those who think enough to challenge ideas. In any case, below my reply is of course the original message that was recently sent to me.
Roy D. Follendore III
It is good to be skeptical but in my opinion it is more important to be analytical and proactive. I made broad statements from complex perspectives which I have researched and/or participated and know to be true. They were not intended to be persuasive. Let me take your reply in parts...
"But is it really terribly different from footnotes and/or endnotes?"
Yes! The body of hypertext is different. What it does is different. Why it does what it does is different. Footnotes and Endnotes are additions to, not true active integral embodiments. The individual thing that is a book is not the same as the collection of hypertext knowledge which is self reinforcing. An analogy to this might be that a single cell is not a human being. The connection and communication between is in fact an important difference.
"are you referring to privacy issues, taxation, free speech, the
availability of pornography, or yet something else?"
Yes to a degree but far more than that, the fundamental economics have been shifted and changed on a grand scale. The question of what it means to be intelligent and astute within our society has been altered. The fundamental question of what it means to be a citizen has also been altered. Business the economic nature of politics and culture has been dramatically affected. One can not operate a successful business or function today without at least attempting to understand the implications.
"I question whether we really have this quickening rate, or is it largely confined to certain aspects of computation and communication technology."
In the end the Internet is computation and computation is communication.
"For larger issues, though, such as racism"
In my personal opinion racism is not really a larger issue, but a fundamental fact of human existence arising out of the competitive nature of human beings to gain influence and power over others. It can be suppressed but not denied, so that either way culture is always being affected. We are all racists on some level regardless of our skin color because skin color exists and our human ability to try to deny this fact makes us even more so. The practice of racism may be manageable but the concept of racism is a self referencing feedback loop that is endless.
"I think the Internet is yet a "solution seeking a problem.""
The denial of the existence of justification is not a conservative concept but a radical one. The Internet exists for reasons and that is ultimately the problem for which it exists.
""The risk we are take is that if this does not occur soon, then the opportunity that we now have to improve ourselves and the conditions on our planet may be lost forever as the Internet ultimately splinters into polarized ideological factions." exaggerates the importance of the Internet in our lives. How, exactly, do you envision this sentence "playing out" in your view of an undesirable future?"
I don't see how the importance of the means by which we reorganize ourselves using communication can be exaggerated. The future is a very long time. There will obviously eventually be a catastrophic failure from which humans will either adapt or fail to adapt. (The ultimate result could be wonderful or terrible but most likely somewhere in between.) The Internet represents a reorganization of societies without geographic boundaries. All of our models indicate that given an open system there are far more ways to reorganize and fail than reorganize and succeed. Societies may not be able to afford the eventual cost of reorganized idealism.
I can see that you are particularly concerned with our humanity toward ourselves. (Meaning that is good.)
"I agree that the Internet is "way cool", but what problems is it really capable of solving?"
The Internet simply solves transactional problems between individuals and the collective of individuals. However the Internet is a sophisticated communication tool through which we as individuals and organizations of individuals reorganize to solve problems. There were decisions to use this tool and the efficiencies and economics of using it now prevent us from collectively changing our minds. It is a fact that the means of communication affect the potential solutions that are available as well as the decisions that are chosen.
Those are my thoughts though it is not really all that important that we agree or disagree. An exchange of ideas just gives people an opportunity to consider a different opinion which either sways ones thinking or reinforces it. That is part of the reorganization to which I referred. My point is best made by the mere fact that we are exchanging ideas through the Internet.
From: Dan Reichel
Sent: Tuesday, April 24, 2001 10:22 AM
Subject: Disagree: Is the Internet really that significant in our social
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I certainly agree with some aspects of your post, but beg to differ with you on some other aspects.
I agree that "hypertext", i.e., the creation of documents with referential links, is a wonderful invention. But is it really terribly
different from footnotes and/or endnotes? (This in response to my understanding of your words, "There is clear evidence that it already has because it has changed the ways that we organize and rely on collective knowledge.")
As for "The Internet has uncovered new concerns that we as a collective society have previously been ignorant of and must now be kept aware.", are you referring to privacy issues, taxation, free speech, the availability of pornography, or yet something else? Certainly all the matters I just listed have been subjects of concern long before the Internet came into being!
Regarding "While we have more abilities to affect change and make decisions in our environment and our culture, what the Internet has also done is to change the rate and degree to which we must affect change in order to make a positive difference.", I question whether we really have this quickening rate, or is it largely confined to certain aspects of computation and communication technology. For larger issues, though, such as racism (look at recent events in Cincinnati, rather reminding meof my living through the riots in Detroit in the summer of '67, or was it '68?), I am not sure we are approaching a solution any faster today than we were back then. For this issue I think leadership is much more significant than technological advances -- leadership and direction.
Despite his faults, I think President Kennedy helped put the country on a better track (though I am sure some will disagree). I am not sure that we have had a president so willing to fight the status quo since the days of Kennedy, and I realize that many consider his assassination as an ultimate consequence of his forthrightness and independent mind.
Like the LASER once was, and in some ways still is, I think the Internet is yet a "solution seeking a problem." And, although the Internet may be the ultimate high-speed communication tool for the connected portion of humanity, I have yet to see it become "the shot heard round the world",except that I suppose we have seen such in the form of virus transmission! But, in terms of a "rumor mill", it doesn't take too many iterations of "everyone passing the word along to all their friends" to encompass pretty much the entire email universe.
I think your concern "The risk we are take is that if this does not occur soon, then the opportunity that we now have to improve ourselves and the conditions on our planet may be lost forever as the Internet ultimately splinters into polarized ideological factions." exaggerates the importance of the Internet in our lives. How, exactly, do you envision this sentence "playing out" in your view of an undesirable future?
On the matter of your closing sentence, "The ultimate survival of mankind is dependent on our ability to make good on the path we have taken with Internet technology and the potential of distributing useful and valid knowledge applied in the form of wisdom protected from the noise that surrounds all of us.", I like to think of that in terms of how enchanted many of us have become with technological advances. Ithink "Madison Avenue" is much to blame, as is "market hype" by microprocessor and software manufacturers. Regrettably I feel that this enchantment with technology has led many of us away from much broader and more significant social concerns, in my opinion, such as "How should our society help care for the sick and the elderly?", or "How has the mobility of our society, essentially eliminating the 'extended family'
in all but rare instances, torn a large rent in the social fabric?" Iagree that the Internet is "way cool", but what problems is it really capable of solving?
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