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A big question

Why did the world shatter at the touch of a hyperlink?

Newspapers, encyclopedias, record companies, telephones, politics, education, analytics, scientifics, genetics, libraries, mass media, high culture, television, classrooms, assholism, channels, columns, stations, tours, travel, marketing, picketing, knitting, hectoring, picturing, gossiping, friendship redefined, attention redefined, leadership redefined, defamation redefined, curating, editing, publishing, correcting, crowds, mobs, shopping, bar-hopping, catalogs, sing-alongs, fact-checking, being together, being apart, staying together, moving on. Social forms and major institutions, many set in the Earth on stone foundations, fell down at the flick of a hyperlink.

How could that have happened?

Every discipline has its answer: economics, business, media, anthropology, sociology, religion, linguistics. You name it, and they have a theory. Of course they do because the collapse of institutions is a big deal, so the biggest deal frameworks have to provide some hypothesis.

We need all those explanations, and we need them all at once. All I’d add is that part of the explanation is that we knew all along that atoms were never up to the job. We knew that the world doesn’t boil down to even the best of newspapers, that it doesn’t fit into 65,000 articles in a printed encyclopedia, that there was more disagreement than the old channels let through. (What they called noise, we called the the world.) We knew that the crap pushed through the radio wasn’t really all that we cared about, or that we all cared about the same things within three tv channels of difference. The old institutions were the best fictions we could come up with given that atoms are way too big.

The old institutions were more fragile than we let ourselves believe. They were fragile because they made the world small. A bigger truth burst them. The world is more like a messy, inconsistent, ever-changing web than like a curated set of careful writings. Truth burst the world made of atoms.

Yes, there is infinite space on the Web for lies. Nevertheless, the Web’s architecture is a better reflection of our human architecture. We embraced as if it were always true, and as if we had known it all along, because it is and we did.

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20 Responses to “A big question”

  1. To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first reinvent the universe?

  2. Because the universe is relational, not empirical.

  3. A common historical thread seems to be improvements in speed and distribution of information has had similar disruptions as their communications technologies became mainstream. Printing press, trains, telegraph, airplanes, telephone, radio, television, etc. all shifted and disrupted to varying degrees, breadth, and depth. The internet shift not only gave speed and reach that telegraph and telephone did, but it gave more volume and more permanence to the information shared.

    The maxim around economics of the pure flow of information will allow for better understanding and decisions has some relevance. It seems people sort of do act along these lines.

  4. It’s all just physics. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, to be precise, deduced the principle of the increase of entropy.

  5. Electricity is magic.

  6. [...] this morning it’s David Weinberger that’s got me thinking. No doubt, David has been one of my favorite Web philosophers for a long time, someone who almost [...]

  7. Jamaica vacation provides getaway packages at some of the most prestigious resorts in the topics and having a group of dedicated travel professionals that know the importance of safe.

  8. Dear Mr. David Weinberger-

    In your article “A big question”, while the internet is convenient sometimes, I agree that many negative things have come about as the result of the internet. Many social problems have come as the result of sites like formspring, facebook, or twitter because anyone can view everything a person says. These sites have created a society where nothing is very private, making it hard for people to keep any problems or issues from reaching the light. A customary result of problems being voiced publicly is that the problem is usually dramatized to a great extent. People feel more pressure if someone wants to duke it out in public; a person will feel like they have to please everyone, and need to smooth things over with everyone witnessing. On another note, regarding the statements you made about how the internet was accepted so fast, I agree that people found a sort of truth in the internet. Most people believe that everything on the internet is true, and they take random people’s word for things. Once one person starts believe in something, it moves as a chain reaction and starts affecting other people and their beliefs. Overall, as soon as one person enjoyed the “first hyperlink” everyone was going to at least check it out.

  9. Nick,

    Thanks for reminding us that the Net is far from a utopia. Of course that’s true (i.e., I agree). But we could turn that around to re-ask this post’s question in an even more pointed way. The more different and problematic a new technology is, the more slowly one would expect we would have adopted it. Yet the Net – for all its problems – has swept through our culture with unprecedented speeding, knocking over our oldest institutions along the way. Since the Net has so many downsides, including the ones you describe, why then have we accepted it so quickly?

    My point about there being truth on the Internet was not that only true things are stated there or even that “most people believe that everything on the internet is true.” (By the way, is that right? I’ve never met anyone who believes that everything on the Net is true. Have you?). Rather, I meant that the Net removes some of the old ways of thinking that we always suspected were not good reflections of what it means to be human in a shared world.

    Best, David

  10. The first comment on this thread is classic: “To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first reinvent the universe?” ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_of_Science#A_Glorious_Dawn )

    I have long made the point that what wikipedia did was to expose the fact that our notions of “truth” and “knowledge” are socially curated and always have been. The social construction of reality is no surprise to some of us these days, but the very functionality of wikipedia put that process front and center.

    I agree with you, and think that the Web and the Internet did that in a broader way, i.e. exposed the social construction of reality, and in the process has caused us to have to confront, discuss, philosophize, and make decisions about that complex process.

    -p

  11. [...] Yes, there is infinite space on the Web for lies. Nevertheless, the Web’s architecture is a better reflection of our human architecture. We embraced as if it were always true, and as if we had known it all along, because it is and we did. http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2011/05/01/a-big-question [...]

  12. A wonderful insight here. Not just how the architecture is more like “us,” but that it had been a long time coming. There was a suppressed fury at the corporate media’s efforts to give us a world that it controlled, us on the couch, eating what we were fed. This shift in basic structure has to do with the power of attention and the enabling of us to do the attending more like we can and care to. Things snapped because we were way past ready for this – we were seriously trapped and we felt it, but didn’t quite know what to do, until the hyperlink gave us a clue.

  13. Dear Mr. David Weinberger,
    In your article “A big question”, while the internet is convenient sometimes, I agree the use of internet has a lot of negative thing. First, many social sites like Facebook, MySpace, and twitter have many problems because nothing is personal. Everything you say on those sites can be viewed by anyone. I agree that everyone finds that everything on the internet is true. Many people using the internet will take anyone’s word on anything and once they believe that it is true, it will start spreading all over the internet. If this does happen, then pretty soon most of the stuff you read and hear about on the internet will be a bunch of lies and all false information.

  14. Jesse, I agree that it’s an important thing to worry about, but I’m not as pessimistic as you are. For one thing, I do _not_ think that everyone believes everything they read on the Net. You don’t, I’m sure. Neither do I. Also, we do keep coming up with ways of checking and verifying information on the Net, including fact-checking sites and sites that have various types of trust mechanisms. Nevertheless, there will continue to be many lies and falsehoods on the Net, and it will be a perpetual challenge to avoid being fooled by them.

  15. [...] truth/let me bestow information on you model long ago. However, reading this and this has sparked a new question beyond the “what are we doing?” and “what are [...]

  16. [...] A big question- David Weinberger, May 1, 2011 [...]

  17. [...] this morning it’s David Weinberger that’s got me thinking. No doubt, David has been one of my favorite Web philosophers for a long time, someone who almost [...]

  18. i agree, what that interested me, can not be pushed through the radio or newspaper!!
    At this point I have a question!! what will happen to newspapers?
    What do you think about it, how will be their function in the future?

  19. Marcello, I wish I knew! I doubt they have much of a future as paper objects, but I don’t know what will happen to them even digitally, at least over the long term.

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