The Silent Revolution
We live in extraordinary times. From the comfort of our homes, we effortlessly communicate with people on the other side of the world. Ideas have the potential to reach billions in the fraction of the time it used to take to travel from one village to the next. But instead of recognizing this amazing revolution for what it is, we take it for granted and even allow some to stand in the way of it reaching its fullest potential.
To put the impact of the Internet into perspective: in prehistoric times, individuals communicated with the members of their extended family only. Other groups were potential threats and often hostile. Over time, the size of the tribes and the network of ‘connected’ groups grew – mostly by sword – but even by the time the Roman Empire and the Han Chinese dominated the West and the East, the ordinary person had little or no relationship outside his immediate vicinity.
But one thing did connect great swathes of the globe: trade and the exchange of ideas. Wares, trinkets and gold moved from one corner of the world to the other; through giant deserts on the backs of camels, or on the rhythm of the monsoons on merchant ships. Philosophy, religion and science, in short ideas, traveled along with these merchants and spread far beyond their points of origin, benefiting all they touched.
The Evolution of Progress
Progress is the result of communication and cooperation. While humanity undoubtedly progressed over the millennia, there were always obstacles which never really went away – until now.
Before the internet, social cooperation and the free exchange of ideas was still highly costly. The evolution of progress can be seen as a long struggle to reduce the costs of and the barriers to knowledge. This struggle was never a violent one, but one which was the spontaneous result of larger and larger groups of people demanding the benefits which result from the free exchange of ideas.
In ancient times, ideas could only be transferred from one person to another by word of mouth. This meant that the people who possessed the power to control which stories and ideas could be told had a firm grip not just on what was allowed to be thought, but on the whole culture of the community.
The invention of writing was the first challenge to the monopoly of the powerful over ideas. The great scholars of Ancient Greece, for example, wrote down their theories, and, through the sheer power of their arguments, managed to challenge the age-old dogmas of tribal leaders. Yet, the masses were still largely ignorant. Aristotle wrote only for those who could read.
As the peoples of the earth increasingly came into contact with one another, humanity soared to ever greater heights. After the muslim golden age, Western Europe once again stepped onto the world stage with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. This made the proliferation of ideas and the ability to communicate with others much cheaper than it had ever been before and thereby enriched the earth.
The mass production of books over the next centuries was a great step for humanity, but there were still problems. Books were still expensive, still only the elite were literate and still, costs of proliferating ideas was prohibitively expensive for the masses. Progress was, as a result, dependent on the consent of those who possessed the means of distribution and the power, will and wealth that was necessary to spread new ideas.
CONTINUE TO Part 2: How the Internet Changed Everything
Monday, 02 July 2012 13:47
The Internet Revolution Pt 1: History and Progress of InformationWritten by Marquis Davis
Published in The Internet
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