Our New Gutenberg

There are about 193 countries in the World, and every one of them has taken up the use of the internet. I remember that it was not so long ago that I was an early adopter of the internet and found so many problems in getting the internet to work properly, which problems have largely but not completely vanished. Today we can use it as a source of information or in the way that we use a department store, or as a brochure for communication or for entertainment. It is a complicated and wondrous invention,

The internet is just like any invention in that it may be used for good purposes and evil purposes, for purposes that improve the lot of humanity or those which cause humanity distress and loss of life. Communication may create peace or war, truth or propaganda, beauty or baseness. Whatever I am communicating as I pound away at my keyboard here in London may once it is translated in binary code and thrust into electrical devices, be pulled out of where it resides and reconstituted into the eyes and mind of any one of more than two billion fellow humans in one hundred and ninety three nations. You see, according to the internet a third of the world’s population use the internet in one form or another.

No one owns the internet although some providers of hardware, software and communications services have done their best to own as much of it as possible but the internet remains free and uncontrollable with virtues and vices that mirror those of the whole of humanity, rather than a section of it. We are free to browse what we will, except in those places which censor our browsing, and even in those places some people can find ways to avoid the censorship.

The internet both serves us and we serve it, it is both parent and child to us, demon and angel, saint and sinner. It has become as significant as the invention pf the printing press of Johannes Gutenberg nearly six hundred years ago. The thing that distinguishes great civilisations of the past is the ability to create a permanent record of the thoughts of that civilisation, which is why we admire say Ancient Greece, because we can understand their thoughts, but not a civilisation long gone which were unable to record their thoughts, which might have been more profound than those of Ancient Greece. This permanency is the thing that the internet brings. Once an idea is posted on the internet it stays, no matter if you try to delete it, it is somewhere to be found by two billions in one hundred and ninety three different nations. Once a book is printed, it stays written, despite the efforts of those who burn books. This is old wisdom of the Persian poet and mathematician who nearly a thousand years ago wrote (I use FitzGerald’s translation

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

With these words Omar Khayyam could have been writing about the internet.

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