December 11, 2004: 8:43 AM Pacific Time
TECHNORATI'S MAIN PAGE : 5,002,014 weblogs watched. 718,687,874 links tracked."Nobody goes online anymore, it's too crowded."
Going online and being online are not solitary experiences. If they were, only hermits would bother with them.
If all online was was a only collection of data bases, data dumps, bots, and a hoary assemblage of mediators/librarians/whatever ... then we'd see a lot less emotion, time, and thought expended on it. Many people read and are moved by various online interactions. Few people are moved by encyclopedias and databases although all would agree they are useful. Even if online were all of the world's records stored on an infinite hard drives and accessible to all at any moment, it would still be nothing more than a card catalogue as high as the sky. We'd use it but it wouldn't seem any more compelling than the reference section.
Quite the contrary, online is a state that evolves from the wish not to be solitary. It arises from the desire to be "connected" on a new level to others -- to their knowledge, their businesses, their tastes as they choose to reveal them, to their personalities as they choose to construct them. The gravitational attraction of online for people is other people.
WiFi cybercafes, as a group, are emblematic of this state. Where a cafe's business plan once stopped at beverages, sandwiches and pastry, one that does not offer WiFi today is a cafe heading for oblivion. Those that offer free WiFi are the one's heading for success. Touted by the cafe conglomerate Starbucks as "the third place" in American life, the addition of WiFi to this place weaves all those places into a single space that is both of and beyond the physical location in which an espresso and a laptop rests on a table.
This drive to reach through the abstract nature of the experience to something more concrete is one of the primal power sources of the Net. It drives the metaphors and the metaphors are key to how humans perceive and use the medium: "cyberSPACE," "virtual COMMUNITY," "Where do YOU want to GO today?" and "LiveJournal" to cite a few. That's why we respond on a deeper level to personal home-brew blog pages than we do to something like Apple's movie trailer site -- even though the utility of the latter seems to be larger than the former.
We're pack animals, although we call our origins "tribal" to differentiate ourselves from beasts. As pack animals we try to assemble a group around us in life that augments and extends our
experiences, our skills, and our aspirations. Before the advent and extension of the Net, this process was limited by geography and time. By accepting this medium as an extension of the self's possibility to find and forge connections with others on a deep and immediate level, we expand our personal possibilities, deepen our connections with others, and enhance our lives. The drive to expand and deepen the Net is the drive to connect with others. That's what catches the attention of people once they come online and "get it" (Not everyone does but that may have more to do with an individual's capability to form abstract relationships than it does with any limitations of the medium. )
In the present form of connection where all individuals work first and foremost with words, this connection can deepen more rapidly than encounters in the real world. As my Mike Godwin of Godwin's Law has commented (and I paraphrase), "The problem with ASCII text is not that we fail to understand each other, but we understand each other all too well. We're mainlining each other's thoughts."
This is why blogging is expanding the Net more rapidly than any other force today. Blogging is not just some mere "value-added" item over and above the act of passing on information. The human interaction itself is the primary value and reason people continue to join and expand the Web and the Net. They arrive, depart, and reconnect again to break down the solitary nature of contemporary life in the real world; to make it more multiple, more multifoliate than previously thought possible.
Everything else -- technology, hardware, CEOs strutting and fretting about their latest new and "exciting" interface, site, knowledge 'product", business, reports, analysis, projections -- are merely the dim background against which the work of connecting all the sentient human minds on the planet goes forward in an inexorable manner, day in and day out, and will until it is finished. At which point, it will never be finished, but transformed into a full partner to the unfolding works and days of the Earth.
If the growth of the web feels exponential (and it does), it is because of the fact that every single person who "goes online" in even a partially committed way brings the entire universe of who they are, what they know, and what they have and are experiencing.
In a book I wrote in the stone age of the web I observed that one of the 12 Commandments of Cyberspace is "You have to give to the Net to get from the Net." The Net thrives not from the proliferation of Web sites and the piling up of data and knowledge but from the people behind those Web sites. The deepening comes not from the sheer numbers but from the extent to which they heed the command to Hamlet's Ghost and "Stand and unfold yourself." That's why cyberspace is constantly surprising and interesting. The Net has made "The Lonely Crowd " of the 20th century's epoch of alienation defunct. The Net is the most "unsolitary" experience ever made available.
It is that way because the primary desire of the human race is not to "Search" but to "Find."
[If you enjoyed this article and others at this site, please vote at the 2004 Weblog Awards: Best Essayist]Posted by Vanderleun at December 11, 2004 8:48 AM | TrackBack