Brulog

Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

u r 15, w3

Posted by boakley59 on May 1, 2008

Congratulations, World Wide Web! You’re 15! On April 30, 1993, CERN presented you to the world, no strings attached.

You’ve had quite an impact on us already, with fortunes made and lost betting on what you’ll do next. I’ve been helping to feed you, first from 1997 to 2006 in the production line at Arkansas Online, the Web site of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and now in dribs and drabs as part of the blog community.

You’ve made quite a difference in all our lives, mainly by changing our expectations. Used to be people heard about news on the radio, then waited for their newspaper to get details. Then, people saw news on television and waited for their newspaper to get background and perhaps broader interpretation. With you, they hear, see and read everything almost instantaneously. But I’m afraid you may have taken something from us. People say you have flattened the world, by which we mean you have leveled the playing field so that anyone, even with limited resources, can now participate in a global community of communication. But as you grow older, I worry you have flattened the world in the sense that you make us forget that the world is round. So many of us talk baby talk with you; so many of us try to be heard at once; so many of us talk as fast as we can without stopping to think. We have lost our subtlety and our patience.

You give us a way to talk to each other all the time: Most sites give readers a way to comment on any item. It turns out an awful lot of us don’t really want to share conversation; we want to win it. So many of us apparently have felt shut out and kept silent for so long that we think it’s our right to shout as loudly and spitefully as we can. You have taken away the manners we have when face to face with each other. You have connected us all but left us remote so that we can be as rude as our frustration lets us. Anyone we disagree with must be ignorant or evil and we don’t mind a bit telling them so, with you as our intermediary.

You give us a vast library of knowledge, but mostly we go to the children’s section where we can find the stories we like and don’t have to worry that the ideas will be too complex to understand in a few minutes. A lot of us think scientists are conspiring to kill God and journalists are conspiring to give the other side (whichever that is from ours) power and referees are conspiring to cheat our team. You have brought us together in our stupidity, like a lynch mob out to hang anybody. And when I say “anybody,” I don’t mean Tiger Woods or “anybody black,” because “lynching” never had any racial content for me. I learned the word from westerns, where angry fools wanted to hang a suspect as a horse thief or murderer without taking any time to consider or even gather any evidence. These days, with your help, we have a lynch mob for people who say “lynching.”

I hope as you grow older you will get better at this mediation and save us from our foolishness. Today, we look at what you allow us to do and presume that puts us at the center of the universe. But as we continue to examine the treasure-house of information you offer us, we will find like Copernicus that the center is elsewhere or like Einstein that anywhere can be the center. We will see that we are drops in the ocean, fully part of the whole but more similar than different from all the others.

Remind us, as often as it takes, that whatsoever is done to the least of us, or when the bell tolls for one of us, it happens to all of us. Convince us that it is not better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven. Help us to meet the enemy in this uncivil war of words and see that “enemy” is a misnomer: He is us.

And someday, on your 21st birthday or your 50th or 100th, I will thank you for centering us.

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