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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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