When describing the history, power and potential of both the internet and the world wide web, Google’s web book primarily focuses on the strength of the internet to connect computers and the ability of modern browsers to display media rich web pages. Naturally the Google book starts by highlighting the ability of your computer to access a multitude of computers and servers via the internet, effectively drawing upon their resources to create a cloud based super computer, in order to produce better search results; however, this cloud super computer has also been used to search for alien life and for a raft of other less seemly purposes.
The Google book also highlights the ability of modern browsers and coding languages to enable the world wide web to display rich media pages that present a greater range of information be it text, pictures, audio or video. Of course the real power of the internet, particularly as it applies to global change stems from its ability to link individuals. As Margaret Mead may or may not have said,
“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
With the advent of the internet groups no longer need to be small in order to stay connected and cohesive, nor do they need to be localised or even of the same nationality, culture or religion in order to remain unified towards a common goal. Indeed the world wide web has been used to link a large groups of people together to form a super human brain in order to,
- solve the tenacious scientific problem of folding proteins
- sort and categorise the world’s knowledge on Wikipedia
- to link museum photographic collections with their present day locations
- to bring creative projects to life
Combining the interconnectivity of the web with modern browsers that are imbued with rich media capabilities has also changed the world by democratizing culture. Previously culture had to pass through cultural authorities such as museums, radio stations and TV networks which effectively acted as checkpoints, filtering and mandating the cultural spectrum within their geographical constraints. Now any multitude of cultures can be accessed by all connected individuals regardless of their location or the dominant media and culture purveyors that dominant their area.
Finally and most importantly the world web continues to democratise news. From the way it is produced to providing us the choice of what to consume and engage in. We are now able to shares stories and viewpoints that would otherwise have been ignored or actively suppressed in the mainstream media. And most importantly individuals have the ability to counter and subvert the hegemonic viewpoints produced by corporations, media outlets and political propaganda mechanisms like the newly created super pacs.
This is the most powerful and important potential of the internet and world wide web because it seems that for the last thirty years democracy has been dying in the western world. In the world’s established democracies voter turnout is down. Governments continue to ignore public opinion and it seems that corporations have greater ability to control legislation than voters. As Mahatmi Ghandi may have said,
“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
It seems that for the last thirty years this small group of determined people that have been changing the world are industry lobbyists, self interested politicians and corporations. The gains made by environmentalists, labour unions and human rights activists seem to be receding and this is the elephant in the room for all those who tout the internet as the means of social and global change, for it seems that despite the online fervour and energy, transforming internet activitism into real world change will take more than hype.
Perhaps we need to ask what civil disobedience should look like on the world wide web?