Indra’s Internet

The proliferation of the Internet has led to a very different world than that of our parents. If someone told you 30 years ago that there would be a cheap, reliable, portable way to share music, movies, and information with anyone on the globe at any time of day, would you have believed them? In the decades since the first email, we’ve seen massive strides in the development of fast global communication. From the first web site to the latest tweet, our world – and our perceptions of our world – are being shaped in the context of a global network of thoughts and experiences.

What kind of effect is this having on our societal consciousness? Well for one, we’re becoming an instant society. It’s difficult for younger generations to imagine a world that isn’t available 24/7. The dot-com boom helped lay the foundation for the digital marketplace, a medium where products and services could be sold around the clock and around the globe. Companies used the Internet to automate the processing of sales, sending orders from website to warehouse instantaneously. While our ancestors were content to do their banking between 9 and 5, a modern bank that doesn’t provide instant check deposits via smartphone will get left in the dust.

We’re becoming a connected society. We’ve learned how to share our life experiences in ways that were previously relegated to phone conversations, postal mail, or face-to-face meetings. Computers may have made us less personable, but they haven’t made us more isolated. We can organize gatherings, reconnect with old friends, and share once-in-a-lifetime experiences more easily and more rapidly than any generation before us. Our devices are gateways to the lives and experiences of those closest to us.

We’re also becoming a society of artists. While most of us don’t paint, write or make music, the open nature of the Internet allows us to express ourselves in ways never before possible. We’re free to broadcast our ideas to the world without fear of retribution or censorship, even those of us who live in the most repressive regimes. The increasingly low cost of high speed data has made it possible for anyone to film and share a video in minutes. This freedom of self-expression and exposure to a worldwide audience helps encourage those who may have otherwise felt too isolated or too disconnected to follow their passions.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re becoming a more educated society. True democracy only exists when its participants are informed and active in their participation. The nature of the Internet makes it simple to spread vast amounts of information to an enormous swath of people. Exposure to new ideas has created bridges between cultures that never existed before. Maybe you can’t trust everything you read on on the Web, but you can use your prior knowledge and your judgement to make informed decisions based on the information provided to you.

Indra’s net is most often used a metaphor for the concept of interdependence. Imagine a spider web covered in drops of dew, gleaming in the early morning sun. If you look closely at a single drop you can see the reflections of every other drops, as well as the reflection of the drop you’re looking at in those reflections, and so on. While not a perfect comparison, the Internet is quickly becoming a modern embodiment. Imagine your laptop or your phone as a drop on an infinite, multidimensional spider web: in its reflection lies a vast collection of servers, routers and other devices storing pieces of a vast library of human thought, emotion and experience. As a member of this boundless spider web, all other drops are reflected in it; their combined resources create the whole experience. Cables, radio, infrared and microwave serve as the webbing which facilitates this exchange. Through this design, science, technology and human willpower combined to embody an ancient desire to create an open medium of communication across the globe.

Here’s a challenge for you: the next time you pick up your phone to check your email, post on Facebook, check your bank balance or stream music from Pandora, stop for a moment and consider how the Internet has challenged your way of thinking.

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