One Amazing Thing the Internet Has Given Humanity
And what it has revealed about humanity and the world
The very early days of what would become the public internet were messy. That was the 1970’s. The idea of streaming video content wasn’t even on the minds of the hippies living in and about San Francisco and other parts of the world. It was mostly Bulletin Boards. Ones that were read, then printed off and considered, a response written and uploaded to the board. No GUI’s. All command lines. Text. Monochrome screens. Hacked hardware. Telephone modems and screeching dial-up. It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that the internet, still dial-up for the most part, began to seep into the mass market. Along came the World Wide Web, which had kicked of in 1989, but taken several years to be viable at scale. The idea of connecting the world was picking up apace. Something big was happening.
A fundamental trait that has helped humans evolve societies and cultures throughout history has been our ability to communicate, verbally and visually. From crude runes to Egyptian hieroglyphs and the incredibly complex and amazing Incan Khipu that was seen in many indigenous societies. Much, much later would come the telegraph, telephone, radio and television. Not long after, in historical terms, came the internet.
Today, we can link with over half the world’s population almost instantly, across any time zone. Ideas, knowledge, cultural elements and societal views are exchanged. Often without us even thinking about it. Children born after the year 2000 do not understand a world without the internet, which I use interchangeably with the world wide web. An example of its ubiquity is that the word “internet” no longer has a capital “I” at the start.
The internet has given us interconnectedness on a scale we’ve never achieved before, but there is one major concept that it has given us. The internet is both good and bad, but as a technology, it is neutral. It’s about what we do with it. Right now it may seem there’s a lot of bad associated to this interconnectedness. Cyber crime, disinformation, trolls, doxxing, scams and spam. As nasty as this can be, it’s all just part of what happens when new technologies emerge. We are in a difficult phase, but that is usual. Human societies and cultures always evolve.
Throughout human history when new communications technologies have emerged, conflict has often followed. Perhaps in large part because cultures that had the separation of time and geography are brought closer together. Ideas and politics, cultural norms, they collide faster. This causes tensions through perceived pressures on a culture and society. Whoever controls the information, controls a society or culture.
But there are good sides as well. The ability to learn more, think in new ways, share ideas and solutions to problems. Discover one another in new and interesting ways. Right now, it’s a mess.
As the internet has connected us, it has not only shown us that we can, as a species interconnect, but we are, perhaps, evolving an even greater awareness of the interconnectedness of everything in our world. We have learned that trees can talk to one another and share resources. The Wood Wide Web. We see that we as humans, have more in common with one another than not. The internet has, most importantly, shown us the common faces of humanity, both good and bad. But eventually, that shows us who we want to be and can be.
Another amazing thing the internet has given us the ability to see is that everything is interconnected and incredibly complex. Complexity has always been around us. The complex interrelationship of ecosystems in the environment, of the cause and effect of industrialization, economics and our complicated relationship with the physical world.
And whether we realize it or not, implicitly or explicitly, we are now connecting our physical and digital worlds through the Internet-of-Things by plugging sensors into, onto and around everything we can. Humans navigate our world by seeking to understand it. Our universe too. By connecting telescopes to millions of personal PC’s to harness their processing power, we are working to make sense of the universe.
The one great thing the internet has given humanity is awareness. As this awareness grows, we just have to figure out what to do with it. How to harness it, like we have other phenomena. How to adapt to a world in which our awareness will be constantly expanding. It is equal measures frightening and amazing. A tool like Artificial Intelligence may be critical to helping us in that regard.