Go Google Yourself

I just spent a few minutes surfing the World Wide Web, exploiting and learning about the pulses and rhythms of this communication nexus we and God hath wrought. I Googled my last blog post, the one about poverty and misery, and I did a little exploration of finding myself through my name. A solipsistic enterprise, I admit, but it seemed to have an intellectual justification. I do find the permutations of media fascinating.

You see, someone had written me—an actual human being, hallelujah!—a fellow named Bart, in response to these blog posts I'm writing. He'd read that post and said "I looked at Google and see that a number of sites picked up your article." I had never thought to do that, so with some excitement I tried it. I discovered several interesting things. Indeed, several sites including Energy Bulletin, Ecolocity DC, and the Oregon Progressive Party had linked to the article itself. Mostly Water had even devoted a URL to it, and displayed a well-chosen pullquote. Google listed an alternative media site in South Africa, but I couldn't actually find the article from the link—I think it had already been refreshed, replaced by newer news. I found a link to the article on Humanitarian News with its own URL, from January 16. Then I wondered, could I find the article by going in the front door, so to speak? I went to the main Humanitarian News page and found articles from January 18. Now I'm on the 28th continuation of that page and I've only gotten back to January 17. A human can get exhausted trying to keep up with this web.

The web and e-mail, and the newer, knock-on social media vehicles that use the Internet platform, have performed such an epochal feat, historically speaking. If such communication technologies as the printing press and the telegraph made the world a smaller place in their day, the Internet would seem to have finished the job. I don't know to what extent it shrunk the world and to what extent it grew the network, but at any rate, darn if the two aren't starting to look about the same size.

We have not begun to really use these systems, to exploit their full potential. I don't even know what I mean by "their full potential." Something utopian, I guess. Will we have the time on the planet, or the intelligence as a species, to ever develop and mature our political systems enough that we can imagine and realize what these technologies could really let us achieve toward the uplift and saving of we human animals?

But then, what is this network of machines?— this quintessence of silicon? this technical neural tissue stitching our bytes together? Does it really connect us? Does it integrate and replicate we human beings and our relationships, our needs and real interests? Does it represent "the organized system" Paul Goodman railed against half a century ago? How could it not?

Yet the bald suggestion that "the organized system" is humanity's enemy is, of course, far too simplistic, even propagandistic. Goodman used the phrase, I think, to implicate both a particular set of institutions and a mindset that they shared, a mindset that embraces centralization, bureaucracy, efficiency, top-down authority. The Internet, from a medium-is-the-message or media-ecology point of view—Goodman, Marshall McLuhan's contemporary, called it a concern with "format," and a generation later Neil Postman spoke of a medium's epistemology—anyway, from that strain of media theory, the Internet does share some of these bureaucratic/authoritarian characteristics, but its ethos—is it a romantic fantasy?— seems more on the other side of the coin, more in the underdog camp: decentralized, democratic, humanistic, revolutionary in the Romantic sense. Somewhat syndicalist. It's not hard to believe a "community anarchist" like Goodman, known for his antipathy toward the main achievements of the 20th century, could have gotten wholeheartedly behind the Web.

And yet... the question remains. Does it really connect us? I guess it has connected you and me, Bart, and I say that is good. One person at a time is, after all, how we humans are designed to do these things.