Monday, February 06, 2006

Humanizing Web

In these past few warm, Southern winter days, I have had several conversations about the effects of the Internet on human beings. Not just about marketing and advertising, mind you, but about the world which is opened up to us by the Worldwide Web.

Then author Susan Kirkland sent me a link to a provocative blog by Virginia Postrel, which in turn led me to a remarkable essay by Jaron Lanier on the Cato Unbound Web site.

His long article is not an easy read, even though cleanly written. Anyone who thinks they “understand” the Internet may not have the developed view that Lanier takes of it. But his words are real fuel for a conservative humanist. I simply offer you three statements from Lanier’s essay.

1. The most technically realistic appraisal of the Internet is also the most humanistic one. The Web is neither an emergent intelligence that transcends humanity, as some (like George Dyson) have claimed, nor a lifeless industrial machine. It is a conduit of expression between people.

2. This perception seems to me not only beautiful, but necessary. Any idea of the human future based only on amplifying some parameter or other of human capability inevitably leads to disaster or, at best, disappointment.

3. It’s often forgotten that the Web grew suddenly big in the year before it was discovered by business. There were no charismatic figures, no religious or political ideologies, no advertising, no profit motive; nothing but the notion that voluntary, high quality connection between people on a massive scale was a good idea. This was real news, a new chapter in the unveiling of human potential.

Jaron’s concept is, in one sense, utterly removed from the commercial way we normally view the Internet these days (although there is a great deal more to his essay than this). If, on the other hand, you believe that blogging is about community-building, then Jaron is spot on. Come on, folks: there are people thinking out there. Let's join ’em.

No comments: