The Web has blown documents apart. It treats tightly bound volumes like a collection of ideas--none longer than can fit on a single screen--that the reader can consult in the order she or he wants, regardless of the author's intentions. It makes links beyond the document's covers an integral part of every document. What once was literally a tightly bound entity has been ripped into pieces and thrown into the air.
What the Web has done to documents it is doing to just about every institution it touches.
The conversation I believe we need to have is about what the Web is showing us about ourselves. What is true to our nature and what only looked that way because it was a response to a world that was, until now, the only one we had?
We're falling into email relationships that, stretching themselves over years, imperceptibly deepen, like furrows worn into a stone hallway by the traffic of slippers. We're falling into groups that feel sometimes like parties and sometimes like battles.
The real problem we face with the Web is not understanding the anomalies but facing how deeply weird the ordinary is.
The Web is a world we've made for one another. It can be understood only within a web of ideas that includes our culture's foundational thoughts, with human spirit lingering at every joining point.
The Web is...like a collective, global work of literature. Or a dream.
The Web...reminds us that the fundamental unit of time isn't a moment, it's a story, and the string that holds time together isn't the mere proximity of moments but our interest in the story.
A story...keeps us in thrall by promising us an ending that was there, hiding, in the beginning all along.
The imperfection of the Web isn't a temporary lapse; it's a design decision. It flows directly from the fact that the Web is unmanaged and uncontrolled so that it can grow rapidly and host innovations of every sort. The designers weighed perfection against growth and creativity, and perfection lost. The Web is broken on purpose.
What would it mean for us to be a member of a group, even a mass group like the public, without giving up our individuality? What would it mean if we could replace the faceless masses with face-ful masses? Thanks to the Web, we're in the process of finding out.
...the Web is about _groups_--people who, in one way or another, can look into one another's eyes. Groups are the heart of the Web.
It would be ironic...if the Web, a world our bodies cannot enter, were to return knowledge to the truths of the body: tied to an individual, oriented by a particular viewpoint, rooted in passion. But, then, irony is the Web's middle name.
The knowledge worth listening to--that is worth developing together--comes from bodies, for only bodies (as far as we can tell) are capable of passionate attention, and only embodied creatures, their brains and sinews swaddled in fat and covered with skin, can write the truth in a way worth reading.
...what makes the real world real is that it lacks the characteristics that make the Web the Web. The Web is a social place that we humans constructed voluntarily out of a passion to show how the world looks to us. The real world is that which is apart from us; things of the real world are independent of the way we 'happen' to take them and the passion that we bring to them. The Web has hit our culture with a force unlike that of any modern technology because of this disjunction. Our passion for the Web is, in a sense, our passion for passion itself.
Realism is strong medicine that must be used cautiously because it suspends ways of thinking that are essential components of human existence such as dreaming, imagining, supposing, wishing, and hoping. Worse, it presents a view of our relationship to the world that misses the heart of that relationship.
Our default realism is a wildly, even insanely, inaccurate description of human life. The virtual world of the Web exposes more clearly the truth of our everyday lives. That is why the Web--this disruptive technology, this oddball world--feels so familiar and so welcome.
The Web will have its deepest effect as an idea.
...when you get off the trampoline, the ground doesn't feel bouncy enough. The Web is a powerful experience for many of us because it gives us a place free of what has been holding back our better selves. Much, but not all, of that experience can be transferred to the real world. A combination of habit, custom, economics, politics, and law will determine exactly how much and in what form the real world will change.
We can even formulate it as an overly tidy 'law': A culture's excitement about the Web is directly proportional to that culture's alienation from its everyday experience.
On the Web, there's no land beneath us, no planet spinning us, no sky beckoning to us. All that holds us together is what we're interested in, what matters to us, what we care about.
We are sympathetic, thus moral. We are caring, thus social. These facts are easy to miss in the real world where we can blame space and geography for our involvement with others. On the Web we have no one to blame but ourselves.