Yesterday I learned how to do a media query in CSS. When I learn bits of code I am always taken aback by how the complexity of computer languages is only surpassed by its creativity. Coding, even if it appears like gibberish, is 100% human. We made this stuff up. And, like verbal language, digital script gives us the capacity to imagine ideas that were impossible to conceive before we wrote the platform to dream on.
Curious phenomenon, the Internet continues to be.
We did not use audio cassette recorders to share our opinions with each other about the polyester plastic industry. Nor did not send each other fax updates with our predictions about the future of bitmap scanning technologies. With the possible exception of ham radio enthusiasts and Bulletin Board System users (who were arguably precursive practitioners of the present data age), I cannot think of another communication technology that has conceived so many pundits and prophets of itself. The Internet hosts a self-perpetuating chorus of commentary about the Internet. (You know, sites like this blog, for instance.)
However, we, the self-described cognoscente of cyberspace, are grounded in no fewer self-validating biases than the most subjective of herbalists. The already fuzzy line between culture and cult becomes indecipherable in a world that hails tech stars and CEOs as messianic figures. Whether one sits in an Alexandrian temple to debate the merits of Apollos, or whether one blogs about tactics for monetizing social networks, one cannot help but recognize that humanity is animated by a voracious curiosity about the products of its own imagination.
Like any other religion, the Internet is a temple we are building to ourselves: it provides us tangible metrics to validate ourselves individually (at the micro) and collectively (at the macro). It offers us a way to see ourselves as individuals in relationship to the whole. It is the contextual structure for community. It has priests, prophets, heretics, saviours, monastics, and ordained officiants. It has denominations, splinter groups, schisms, power struggles, politics, orders, orthodoxies, and a canon of mythological architects, archetypes, and heroes.
The Internet is a shrine to all the brilliance and ridiculousness that is the homo sapien. It potentially the most religious invention we have concocted to date.
If the Internet has taught me one lesson, it is this: virtually every “original” idea I have was already had, likely a long time ago, by someone much smarter than I, who understood the counterpoints and implications far better than I do.
I have learned that the worth of an idea rests not in being its originator, discoverer, or author. Nor is the value of an idea some inherent property related to its degree of originality.
In the end, what matters about ideas is not only their capacity to shape the way I view the world, but even more how they shape my actions, choices, and behaviours in the world.
When an idea acutely changes the way I live my life, does really matter who had the idea first?
Perhaps our obsession with originality is more clearly a reflection of our individualism.
Every day I find myself more consciously aware that I need to hear, discover, and absorb the ideas of others… even people who have lived thousands of years ago.
The Internet tantalized the ego of my individualism, which sought to be original and unique, and turned it on its head to teach me a (repeated) lesson about humility.
Kevin Drum wrote an article last year in Mother Jones wherein he argued that
…the internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter. If you don’t know how to use it, or don’t have the background to ask the right questions, you’ll end up with a head full of nonsense. (Drum, 2012)
On the flip side, Ryan Avent suggests that the Internet may be an equalizer of cognitive fortitude:
The more I rely on the same cloud brain that’s available to anyone else, the less the strengths or weaknesses of my meat brain may matter. (Avent, 2012)
As we make the Internet, to what extent does the Internet makes us? Are we creating the network in our own image… is the network transforming us into its likeness? If we are going to speculate on the cognitive-equity consequences of the Internet, the question of reciprocal causation is paramount.
Has the Internet broadened the gap between the smart and the dumb? Has it increased our overall level of cognition by equalizing and democratizing access to information? As with most human technologies, the answer seems to be: depends on the user.
As the famous little epigram goes,
Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and little minds discuss people. (Mouat, 1953)
The technical contribution of the Internet is the capacity to make all types of discussions broader and more accessible. The Internet is a digital amplification of human nature. Its transformative influence on the cognitive landscape of society is inseparable from the agendas and cognition of those who leverage it.
- Drum, Kevin. (2012). The Internet Is a Major Driver of the Growth of Cognitive Inequality. Mother Jones. Feb. 17, 2012
- Avent, Ryan. (2012). Cognitive inequality. Economist Blog. Feb 23, 2012.
- Mouat, Lawrence Henry. (1953). A Guide to Effective Public Speaking. Heath. p. 51.
We often underestimate the trust that is associated with blogging. When I subscribe to a blog I am virtually inviting someone else (perhaps a rather talkative person) to make an apartment adjacent to the living room of my mind. Every time I check a blog or browse through RSS channels I am performing a wager of trust, banking on the author’s resolve to share things worth sharing.
Every post, every update, every act of “publishing” online is an act of trust-building or trust-breaking.
As with any form of human expression, there are times when the interests and intents of the consumer simply do not align with those of the creator. In this case, it may not be an issue of “trust broken” as much as it a flirtatious literary partnership that was just never meant to get serious. And this is fine. In fact, we’d be better off if we were more promiscuous readers from time to time. (There’s nothing wrong with a one-post stand; a fiery one-off that is so intense you can’t remember the author’s name in the morning.)
Regardless of the metaphor we choose for our readers, it falls upon the authors, I believe, to make the first moves to towards a committed relationship. There are some topics that are simply not good for discussion on a first date — especially things like running commentaries on minutiae void of consequence. Readers, like eligible suitors, tend to be put off by desperate, insecure ramblings that amount to little more than pleas for attention.
In summation: blog for others as you would have others blog for you.