As the world-wide web becomes foreground, national borders become background. Other languages recede, and English – the language that just happens to be in the right place at the right time in history – has become the most used language in the freest forum of the world: the internet.
For someone like me, this is an incredible stroke of luck. I am endlessly curious and interested in how the world and the human race are evolving. Most of the world’s conversations about those things are happening on the internet. As it happens, I can follow a lot of it because I had the amazing good fortune to be born into the English language.
And what a vast new world to explore out there: There are brilliant experiments in concepts, in teaching, in communicating.* Yet not everyone is experiencing it. Sometimes I feel like the guy who opens the curtain at showtime: for awhile I can see on both sides of the curtain, but the busy people on either side of that curtain can’t see each other, can’t hear each other, don’t know each other, and are definitely not communicating with each other.
People who still get their information and entertainment from periodicals and TV and don’t spend much time online, really have no idea what a vast and amazing new world is forming out there – just out of sight.
There’s the “Creative Commons” for example. Begun in 2002 by Lawrence Lessig – as a non-profit, the Creative Commons “seeks to support the building of a richer public domain”, and it does. As an example, Wikipedia says, “as of October 2011, Flickr alone hosted over 200 million Creative Commons licensed photos”. What is Wikipedia?** Yet another free online phenomenon: an encyclopedia contributed to by users. Wikipedia describes itself as “an online community of individuals interested in building and using a high-quality encyclopedia in a spirit of mutual respect.” Both Creative Commons and Wikipedia operate in a spirit of trust, the extent of which is amazing.
Both of these online phenomena are there for the enrichment of us all, and they are constructed out of good will as much as anything. They are both instantly accessible to all through “Google” – no doubt the world’s most popular search engine. I ‘googled it’ is a common phrase. If I perform a search for information on a subject I’m curious about, Google will provide me – in most cases – with anywhere from dozens to millions of sources. It will help me refine my search, and I will likely end up with a selection among which I can explore. They could range from websites spouting nonsensical belief systems to objective scientific journals – and it is up to me to decide which to trust.
Learning which sites to trust is a lot like learning what people to trust, or learning the best path to a location. Just another part of this Brave New World!
Another phenomenon is the free availability of instructions-made-easy for just about every skill or machine in existence. If your thingamajig came with instructions you didn’t understand, there’s a good chance someone out there on the world wide web will make it easier for you — probably with a video demonstration. Want to learn how to lip-read, or how to give yourself a perm, it’s out there. Or – how to blog.*** Even more amazing is the increasing availability of university courses – even credits – online, free.
Becoming a part of this world is as easy as turning on a computer, and hooking up to an internet service provider – which are freely available in most urban centers of the world. Many of us became regular users long ago, and have evolved an online culture that moves freely about the world like mist, over borders and through sky-rises, invisible but real, changing the world as we speak.
Ah, but this is dry! I think I’ll go look for a new idea somewhere…