TITLE: If the Web is the Medium, What is the Message? AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 04, 2015 2:33 PM DESC: ----- BODY: How's this for a first draft: History may only be a list of surprises, but you sure as heck don't want to lose the list. That's part of the message in Bret Victor's second 'Web of Alexandria' post. He Puts it in starker terms:
To forget the past is to destroy the future. This is where Dark Ages come from.
Those two posts followed a sobering observation:
60% of my fav links from 10 yrs ago are 404. I wonder if Library of Congress expects 60% of their collection to go up in smoke every decade.
But it's worse than that, Victor tells us in his follow-up. As his tweet notes, the web has turned out to be unreliable as a publication medium. We publish items because we want them to persist in the public record, but they don't rarely persist for very long. However, the web has turned out to be a pernicious conversational medium as well. We want certain items shared on the web to be ephemeral, yet often those items are the ones that last forever. At one time, this may have seemed like only an annoyance, but now we know it to be dangerous. The problem isn't that the web is a bad medium. In one sense, the web isn't really a medium at all; it's an infrastructure that enables us to create new kinds of media with historically uncharacteristic ease. The problem is that we are using web-based media for many different purposes, without understanding how each medium determines "the social and temporal scope of its messages". The same day I read Victor's blog post, I saw this old Vonnegut quote fly by on Twitter:
History is merely a list of surprises. ... It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.
Alas, on the web, history appears to be a list of cat pictures and Tumblr memes, with all the important surprises deleted when the author changed internet service providers. In a grand cosmic coincidence, on the same day I read Victor's blog post and saw the Vonnegut quote fly by, I also read a passage from Marshall McLuhan in a Farnam Street post. It ends:
The modern world abridges all historical times as readily as it reduces space. Everywhere and every age have become here and now. History has been abolished by our new media.
The internet certainly amplifies the scale of McLuhan's worry, but the web has created unique form of erasure. I'm sure McLuhan would join Victor in etching an item on history's list of surprises: Protect the past. -----