By M.C. TRACEY
At the dawn of this new decade, we reflect with humility on the accomplishments of the last. In 2000, could we have predicted the ubiquity with which the Internet now functions in our lives? Could we have foreseen an existence that is so reliant on the daily conveniences it provides, and the extent to which it has pervaded nearly every crevice of knowledge, communication, and culture?
Doubtful we could have. So as another decade burgeons, let us step back and ponder the implications of such a spellbinding change in human experience. Since its bubble inflated in the mid-1990s, the Internet has transformed itself at a breakneck pace, accommodating our every need with the utmost precision. In a mere fifteen years, it has evolved from a relatively meager novelty to an all-encompassing force, on which we project every aspect of ourselves, both individually and collectively. Through it we have consolidated our basic needs of informational consumption — television, phone, mail. Our entertainment, our social lives, professional lives, our education, and our politics all can now be understood through the medium of the Internet.
With that in mind, let us look ahead — far ahead. If all this could be accomplished in fifteen years, what might be the situation in eighty? When the last of us takes our final breath, what will the Internet have become?
Perhaps it will have evolved into something ineffable, transcendent — something not explainable by any word or notion we currently have at our nearsighted disposal.
Indeed, it is possible that the Internet will have bound us all together, as one people, connected by one singular wave of energy. We in turn will behave much more consciously of our fellow man, no matter how far across the globe he dwells, and we will expect the same in return. Our propensity to empathize, fraternize, and otherwise negotiate interpersonal relationships will have been radically altered, stretched beyond the wildest imagination of anyone limited by today’s hopelessly minute breadth of knowledge.
With every passing day, as the prescient Carl Sagan once declared with stirring adoration, a still more glorious dawn awaits. His message resonates with frenetic anticipation; we can hardly contain our innovation, our feverish curiosity, and our ever-accelerating spiral into technological oblivion.
How privileged we are to live in this time of the Internet’s infancy — of infinite possibilities. How privileged we are, indeed, to live in this time of the whole of science’s infancy, for from the greatest galaxy to the smallest electron, there is so much more to know about our cosmos. Our path of discovery barrels on unhinged, unmitigated, and emboldened further ahead with each dramatic achievement.
At the beginning of the last decade, the nascent Internet was at worst a gimmick, at best a mildly interesting pastime for the curiously-motivated and the technologically-informed. It occupied a limited but potential-ridden crest in our collective psyche — but as of yet, daily life did not necessitate the Internet.
And what a difference a decade makes. The Internet now boasts all the variety, all the idiosyncrasy, and all the unpredictability of traditional life. Ten years ago, one could reasonably answer the question “what is your favorite website?” Today, that same question is unaware and awkward: there is no longer a distinction between the Internet and non-Internet living. These two aspects our existence have merged — and irrecoverably so.
We now operate in an electro-world of sorts, one in which our connection to this greater force is soon to be the glue that binds friend and enemy alike. Still further it binds nation-to-nation, culture-to-culture, ethnicity-to-ethnicity, and neighbor-to-neighbor. Those who suffer will be heard. Those who are neglected will be noticed.
And then there is the Internet and democracy. Not democracy’s popular political manifestation (though its reshaping of that is also momentous) but the cultural manifestation — the sort that more reliably enters our everyday lives.
No longer does a privileged minority lay claim to a monopoly of knowledge – soon it will be accessible to everyone. It will be democratized. What now matters more than the mere acquisition of knowledge is how that knowledge is subsequently processed, synthesized, and repackaged into a product of reason. Common pedagogy must thereby transform itself accordingly.
And what does it mean to have a portal to the whole of human knowledge in our pockets? To think: We walk around today with ‘smart-phones,’ devices through which we can contact anyone in the world in seconds, and through which we can simultaneously gather information about any topic we so desire. For a species which has spent most of its days hunting, gathering, child rearing, and clinking rocks together, this is a profound new evolutionary trend.
Even more profound, more impressive, and yet for many disconcerting is the astronomical pace with which this technology is developing. Some rightly decry its potential for manipulation and tyranny. But do they realize the Internet may instead be our great liberator?
Those who live in oppression now have a voice. Those who might otherwise be lost in deafening silence to the annals of history now have the ability to make known their grievances. We now partake in the anguish of our fellow humans with more intimacy, more humility, and more solidarity. Indeed, the Internet is gradually opening our eyes to the world.
But what is it, and what will it look like in eighty years? Perhaps we would be arrogant to attempt such a conjecture. Many find this ambiguity disturbing. I find its reality thrilling.
Through this publication we endeavor to help guide our social transformation such that it will finally be to the benefit of everyone, collectively and individually, acting with unity as we harness the impending power of awesome technology.
In eighty years, will the last among us look back to 2010 with a quaint nostalgia, wondering what life must have been like in such a primitive state?
As we speculate, perhaps the long arc of history will have rendered much of human suffering obsolete. Perhaps we might have finally coalesced into a single global union, once hampered by the arbitrary barriers of race, gender, and cultural identity, but at last shaken free the polarizing chains of centuries past.
Perhaps the ongoing upheaval in Iran, aided by social networking and remote Internet access, will be presented as the first case in which traditional political oppression has become shelved with other dusty relics of history.
Of course, it is beyond our capacity to know. But for now, we’ll do what we can to move things along.