The Internet

The Internet is a global technological system of networked computer networks. That is a purely technological definition and grossly understates the significance of the Internet. The Internet is not just network among computers, it’s a network among humans and computers and the input of humans has a significant impact on the Internet and other humans.

As discussed in the section about nature, nature itself is a self organizing system and it is also the best example of a successful system. The Internet is also mostly a self organizing system. Such systems benefit from their freedom, unpredictability, number of users and sources of input.

The Internet is a (mostly) self-regulating global socio-technological system. The rules for its self-regulation oaref being set by all of its human and nonhuman (such as algorithms) contributors.

The industrial age was an enormous producer of one-size-fits-all solutions that resulted in “one to many” relationships. Examples of these relationships were the traditional media’s control over what was considered to be news, how to frame the news and the dissemination of news. The Internet is the ultimate many to many system. As a result it has a significant role to play in the shaping of public opinion in the democratic process that flows from it. 

The industrial age produced advances that were closely held by their inventors (individuals or corporations) and those inventors profited significantly for themselves while choosing to operate as closed systems that prevented outsiders from freely improving upon those inventions for the greater good (open systems). The Internet includes a combination of closed and open systems, however, the open systems are rapidly gaining in popularity and this trend is unlikely to be reversed.

Back in 1996 Heylighen/Bollen (1996) suggested (3.3) that the World Wide Web could become “super-brain” or “associative memory” if learning algorithms could be generalized in such a way that the it permanently learns from its users. “The brain of the users themselves would become nodes in the Web: stores of knowledge linked to the rest of the Web, which can be consulted by other users or by the Web itself”. The result of this “super-brain” would be that anyone could tap the unlimited knowledge and intelligence of others (and the system itself) in order to solve problems. Although the web is a giant storage of knowledge is not a brain in and of itself because it’s more important inputs and outputs are driven by humans. At some point in time in the future human brain will be directly linked to the web and this will complete the integration of and creation of a global super brain. 

Like all new significant technologies the consequences are both wonderful and horrifying at the same time. On the one hand the super brain could be used to dramatically increase the efficiency with which any one of us can get critical information about any subject at any time. On the other hand, it brings up the possibility that some people will attempt to manipulate or control the individuals that are connected to the super brain.

The internetintimate facilitates real-time globalization through the exchange of ideas and even products. Knowledge flows transcend national borders and therefore the Internet itself is, by far, a colossal driver of globalization. It quantitatively increases globalization it increases the density and intensification of globalization. As a result, knowledge and anything that can be reduced to ones and zeros is essentially detached from territorial space and geographic location. This enables everybody that is freely connected to the Internet to have access to the significant and highly considered work, research and thoughts of other people which has in turn been built on the highly considered work, research and thoughts of previous people. Everybody has the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the people that have come before them then add to their improvements and allow others that have access to the Internet to critique them, disregard them or build on them using their own unique views and abilities – all for the benefit of each individual in the short term and the greater good in the long term. The constant invention of new ideas along with the constant improvement of existing ideas and to the ability for these ideas to be available to everybody can rapidly and significantly reshape society in the image of the best ideas of its current members along with the best ideas from the members of other societies. 

The ability of the Internet to enable one-to-one dialogue between any Internet user is causing enormous upheaval in many fields. Each receiver of information is also a possible transmitter of information. For example, each receiver of news is also a producer of news and any associated opinions and interpretations that can be attached to it. Traditional media always had a fundamentally one directional characteristic. Television, radio and print media put a lot of resources into going out and looking for and “finding” the news then deciding in its own infinite wisdom whether it was in fact news then disseminated it to its audience. Traditionally, the audience consumed it then, with few exceptions, there was no more activity regarding a particular news item. Now, instead of media organizations trying to find all of the news in all of the world, the news is finding the nearest person with a mobile phone and the willingness to take a picture and share it on a platform that can be accessed by anybody. Traditional media cannot be located in every corner of the world all day every day in order to be capable of capturing a real-time account of any event that may be considered to be news. After the initial witness has disseminated the news through an online platform everybody that has access to it has the ability to interpret it, comment on it, share it or ignore it and, therefore, these people are deciding what is news and what isn’t news. Traditional media has been reduced to nothing more than an organization that watches these platforms to see which news items attract a lot of attention and then use this data to determine that this piece of news should be considered worthy of being covered by their traditional news organization.

In the meantime it’s important to understand that the Internet is still in a very early phase of its development and therefore is subject to several constraints. The Internet is organized in a way that represents the asymmetrical distribution of power across the world. The extent to which it can be accessed is influenced by politics (such as the Chinese government refusing to provide uncensored access for its citizens), technology (some regions are simply too remote for it to be cost-effective) and wealth (some parts of the world cannot afford the infrastructure required to provide Internet access). Although it is only a matter of time before these issues are resolved, it does mean that, at this point in time in history, the activities and views generated through the Internet as a whole are not yet an accurate representation of all of the views and activities of all of the people in the world.

Next article in this series: “Algorithms”

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