Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Can we form an accurate picture of the effect of the internet on our lives on this planet?
Or even how important it is and how we know that it is that important?  I rely on it for so many of my daily activities; my banking, my phone calls, my emails, my news, my recipes, my laughs, my shaggy dog stories, my maps, my fact checking, my when and where do we meet for lunch. It all happens there, wherever there is. I would probably feel deprived and isolated without it. And here is the truly surprising part… I have no idea how it works, or how vulnerable it is to control by evil wizards. I simply depend on it.

I think that view that the computer is essential, puts me, approximately where the younger generation was five or so years ago.  I watch them now with their phones that do everything and instantly and think that the courtly days of composing an email are over for this next generation.  They live in a constantly moving world of instagrams, tweets, and captions with their eyes on their phones verifying their existence in stream of photos and quips. They are connected in a moment by moment way.  It is fascinating.  As usual they are moving faster than we are, I know not where. The computer is as everyday to them as a refrigerator or a toaster or indoor plumbing.

I more or less understand, telephones and telegraphs and even television transmission, but my grasp of any significant detail breaks down when I try to picture the internet. Maybe that is how people felt when the first printed books arrived.  Somehow it seems much easier to grasp that process, it is tangible, it can be pictured.  It is not wireless. And still in fits of political pique, printing presses were smashed and books were burned.  People rebuilt, reprinted.  They knew how to, or enough people did.
I am hoping that is so of the internet as well.  That the hackers, the gamers, the people who understand it, for whom it is no more complicated than a printing press, can put it back together again. I think the jury is still out, but I am also guessing that great minds are on this topic as we speak.    

So there it is, my first strange finding in this quest.  It is incredibly important to many of us, for various reasons, it is incomprehensible to most of us, and for the most part we have no idea how vulnerable it is, or how vulnerable we are by using it in a world of data mining and snooping in general.

And the only comfort I take in my general ignorance of the facts of the matter of how vulnerable it is, is that the powers that currently be, need it just as much as we do, and the people who understand it best are the whip smart kids on the planet who, I think, have a moral code about it and its misuse, a Robin Hood mentality, or maybe a new paradigm.  Information should be free, it belongs to no one. 

So how has it changed us, how is it continuing to change us.  Imagine a Mayan astronomer, he has calculated many discrete and useful facts about the universe and its workings. He is fortunate he has a flat and unobstructed horizon on which to build his theories.  He knows his place among the stars.  Now teleport this gentleman forward and give him this to feast his eyes: 

And thousands more, it would be an abundance of confusing riches, a birds’ eye view of the great beyond. It is a stunning fact that this great leap only took one thousand years and instructive to recall that many scientist paid an enormous price for pointing out the falsehoods in our mythic thought, think Galileo and house arrest.
So here we are, I think in many ways about to shift our paradigm again.  And in my small and hopeful opinion, shift we must. I think the internet will help us do it. I think it will stir us up.  It already has in the Middle East. 

The Plaza in a Mexico, the central square in the cities and pueblos is a testament to the big changes in their culture. It has always been a public gathering place. First bounded by the Pyramids and the Ball courts, it gave way in a huge shift to massive Cathedrals, built with the same stones.  The revolutions came and brought the government buildings, large elegant buildings often facing the cathedrals on the opposite side of the square. The cell phone arrived and the cell towers went up in clear view of the square and now every citizen on every bus has a cell phone. Carlos Slim made his fortune.  And now all over Mexico, even in the pueblos, the plazas have WiFi.  Students sit in the plazas doing their homework on rebuilt computers. The world is at their fingertips, they can see the stars. They can read the news from around the world.  And it is wireless.

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