Once we spoke about what separated us from the beasts. We may one day speak about what separates us from the machines. Or what separates humanity from a post- or trans-humanity.
Perhaps someday technology will be more important than ideas, creativity, and the pursuit of knowledge. This day is not here. And this is why the Web and the state of the Web matter.
Today the Web is a battleground. We see the Web slowly changing, how forces representing opposed values are gaining ground. We saw it in the SOPA-act and what happens in the US right now, we see it in the attempts of the EU to monetize on and censor the Web, we see it in the mentality of some companies.
From a technical point of view, we should not regard the Web and Internet as separate. Sometimes we should listen to the technical point of view on a subject matter. But when we speak about the Web, we should not.
The Web is not a protocol, a standard. It never was. The Web is something more than mere technology, and as such it is more powerful than technology.
The original philosophy of the Web, as formulated by Tim Berners Lee and others, embraces the very same values as the tradition of Enlightenment. It was intended to be a platform for rational discourse and playfulness. The Web was intended to embrace knowledge, freedom, and the happiness that comes with this. And just like the philosophy of Enlightenment, it's core is built for universality.
And just the same, we should view both the tradition of Enlightenment and the Web as a platform. A medium. It is you and me who are supposed to be the ones communicating the ideas, sharing, playing, discovering - interacting.
This idea and philosophy of the Web, transcend the pettiness of consumerism, the same logic that through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and Instagram (…) unintentionally in most cases, but also by the hands of trolls, bring forth forces that threaten the values of Enlightenment.
There is nothing wrong with the platforms just mentioned, but they should not be forums of discussions. They are not built for this. The one-liners of Twitter, for instance, can be catchy, but one- and few-liners cannot say anything worth saying about politics. And those who want to discuss do have good alternatives - on the Web, as in other mediums.
We should not be fooled about Enlightenment though. Enlightenment was never pure. Enlightenment has been used to motivate genocide, terror, and domination.
Yet, the dream of Enlightenment cannot be forgotten. We should never forget this dream because if we do, we would be humans no more. We would truly be machines.
People will always see through the jargon of consumerism, they will prefer creativity for the simple reason that most people realize that creativity and visions are authentic and come from the heart. Creativity and the true pursuit of knowledge are always at a glance unfocused, but they are always the consequence of life-long engagement and hard work. Technicalities and jargon anyone can learn.
This is why I feel the deepest respect for Tim Berners Lee.
I am not very fond of the notion of nobility because nobility is based on the notion of some mysterious blood-line, inherited qualities that would motivate privileges, but as a proponent of the Web and the Enlightenment, we should regard him as a knight - a knight fighting for the betterment of humanity.
But Tim Berners Lee and his visions for the Web is just a symbol. The roots are ancient in this tree. The stem is old. The Web is just a branch, or perhaps a leaf? And we should not be sad when one day this leaf has fallen towards the ground, molded with earth, eaten by worms.
I hope we will nourish this tree well. I hope we still will be humans in the future and have a tree of greater stature, and that we with the foremost respect remember the Web, the good parts - and the bad ones - when this day comes.
Nothing lasts forever, least of all a specific technology. And when the content breaks the form, so to speak, the Web will be reduced to being only technology and technology of old times.
Parts of the Web are rotten. But we must realize that we cannot cut them off without harming the good ones. This is why we must keep fighting proponents of harsh censorship, this is we must fight consumerism and forces who want to make a profit from the Web regardless of the consequences.
If the Web is a great bazaar, it is possible to have businesses and the sharing of ideas next to each other. But we need to have balance. We cannot let consumerism and business have it all.
Also, I wonder if we would frequent it? We do hang out at coffee shops, but we do not hang out in clothing stores.
Wise companies such as Y Combinator and many others acknowledge this and do their best to give back to the community of the Web. And so happens, I bet that companies who do so will be rewarded in the end. And if not, they can at least feel pride.
I would never want to work for Google of today. Google of yesterday was not built upon petty politics, it was built upon creativity, hunger for knowledge, and a fuck the charts mentality. Google of today only seems to maintain creativity by buying smaller companies still having the spirit.
We should view this is a sign of weakness and perhaps as with many things in history, it will only be a matter of time before the pendulum moves the other way.
Companies with a Battle Royal mentality and jargon may continue growing for a while, but I wonder for how long. Either Google will be the One company to Rule them All, or some other company (more likely) who still have the proper mentality and be on its way of becoming the next Google. I bet that no company that understands creativity, knowledge, and playfulness will have a hard time getting by in the long run.
Perhaps this is in order and a part of what history and humanity are all about? And should be about. Perhaps our task as a species is just this - to see that this history continues, make sure the right forces persist, emphasize the right values, and all we have to decide as individuals is what side we are on.
Utopia will never be, an otherwise surprisingly common view. However, dystopia or the final catastrophe due to nuclear war or environmental cataclysms may come to be if we do not act and fall into defeatism.
I would take a job working for Firefox over Google any day. But this does not mean I am dogmatic, it only means that I take a stand. I have a Google mail account, sometimes I append '!g' when searching for information with DuckDuckGo and in some respects (while worse of in others) I think Chrome is a better browser than Firefox.
I do my best to stand by the values of Enlightenment. I do my best to stand by the philosophy of the Web. And any business or organization acknowledging the same values will always be my friend in the end, no matter what.
The political philosopher Judith N. Shklar asked what premisses are needed for a liberal society, needed for at least a limited freedom. If we would ask what premisses are necessary for true creativity, knowledge, and playfulness, we would state the same question as what premisses are needed for the Web as it was envisioned.
Some say the Web has gone haywire. But the Web has not degenerated just because parts of it is rotten. I say it still has potential. And more than anything: I say the Web is still vital. And all people using it have a responsibility keeping it that way. This is true for me, you, everyone.
It is the small actions that matter the most.
We can all do something to keep the Web just as great as it has been, and perhaps even do better. We owe it to our children and we owe it to ourselves to do our very best.