Friday, August 14, 2009

Can We Afford to Lose the Web?

Things are funny the way they tend to evolve. For example, common wisdom holds that hardware is the underpinning of software. However, in the recent years, we've seen software being used as an underpinning of hardware (in the form of virtual machines being hosted inside a software program).

Or, in the early days, one could have argued that the economy is the underpinning of literacy. In other words, it was thanks to the economy that some people were in the position to learn how to read and write.

Today, the situation is exactly the reverse: literacy is the underpinning of the economy. Being illiterate ensures that you cannot participate in any economic activities.

To go back to the question asked in the title of this post: "can we afford to lose the web?", the answer is "yes, provided that we can afford to lose our civilization."

In a manner similar to the above examples, civilization used to be the underpinning of the web. Meaning, without the civilization, the web couldn't have emerged.

But today, the evidence seems to be accumulating that the opposite is true, namely, without the web there couldn't be a civilization.

Very strange, but that's how things are. Of course, there is, as always, a whole whack of naysayers, people who are denying any significance to the web. Some of them are simply knee-jerk, some come with certain hilarious arguments. I will present here one interesting counter-argument that I've found while perusing some mindless discussion among some techno-geeks who seem to revel in having no life whatsoever (in case you're wondering why am I lurking around these terrible sites, I am merely doing a little bit of social study, observing bizarre behavioral patterns in the wild):

Any, ANY, website could go down - hell the entire internet world wide web could blow up - and I'd be fine. Sure I'd have to drive to the bank (where... omigod... they use desktop software). But I'd survive, just as well. In fact, I think that my boss and my wife would both be happier.
Bottom line: No website matters to my well being (or anyone I know of for that matter). I'm happier to have them, but could go on just as well without them. The only people who care, are the people who make the sites, and the people who have nothing better to do with their time.

I've withheld the name of the clueless person above, because it may not be his real name. Other than that minor edit, the entire quote is taken verbatim off the discussion thread.

Let's now examine the interesting points he brings up. The first point is the self-centered survivalist argument ("Any, ANY, website could go down - hell the entire internet world wide web could blow up - and I'd be fine.") This is reminiscent of the claims made by some survivalists who organize their lives around the assumption that the end of civilization is near, and so they are fully prepared for the power grid to go down, they can still be OK without electricity. Thus, we can afford to lose the web providing that we're fine with losing civilization.

He then goes on to say that his boss and his wife would be happier if indeed we were to lose our civilization. Of course, if we were to lose many of the trappings of the civilization, such as TVs and so on, that distract us daily, we'd be left with more free time on our hands, free time which could be more readily exploited by our business and personal partners. Does it necessarily follow then that all these trappings are unnecessary?

He concludes with "no web site matters to my well being." With such blatantly self-centered conclusion, he then triumphantly dismisses any need for having the world wide web. How brilliant! It's like an extremely selfish person, who has no children, wanting to abolish all medical professionals who specialize in healing sick children because, hey, he doesn't need them, since he doesn't have any children.