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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
H.B. Augustine graduated from Denison University in May 2012 with a degree in Communication and Philosophy. He is now working on a number of social innovations, including Taggle, Ubiquity University, and Integral Publishing House. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in connecting.
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY H. B. AUGUSTINE
The Web, Democracy,
Practical Implications of their Convergence
I wrote this paper for my Democracy, Liberalism, and Mass Media Communication class. Therefore, I made the language, logic, and overall structure conform to resonate best with my instructor – excluding all Integral jargon, etc., whatsoever.
Technology and the Human Condition
Technology – as it would seem – is deeply illustrative of the human condition and civilization itself, from both literal and symbolic standpoints. Arguably, the advent of the plow as a technological instrument transitioned humankind from tribe to civilization. This transition brought both negative and positive repercussions. Horticulture and the (increased) manipulation of natural resources enhanced lifespan, moving our ancestors from concern over and occupation by survival and safety exclusively, to physical abundance and opportunity for contemplative, intellectual practices such as philosophy, religion, and schooling. On the darker side of this transition into civilization through technological advent, the “birth of ego” may have induced phenomena that had never existed previously: genocide and slavery (Quinn).
In light of these archaeologically and anthropologically backed historical “facts,” a central question arises: Is the evolution of culture and society truly evolutionary in the sense that it has brought more good than ill, more positive than negative? – or, conversely, was precivilized tribal life far superior to anything any of us has known? In order to resolve this predicament, one must acknowledge the integral role that technological advancement played in this historical transition. It would seem that the advancement of technology and the evolution of humanity altogether are closely associated with one another.
The reason why all of the aforementioned is of any relevance and importance to a communication-based study of the relationship between democracy, liberalism, and mass media is this: If technology in general plays such a crucial role, and – in particular – if communication-enhancing technology improves the quality and effectiveness of democracy as a whole, then there is much value behind researching and analyzing the most advanced form of communication-enhancing technology to this day and how it has affected, is affecting, and will affect (global) democracy in accordance with its own development.
Based upon the research in which I have thus engaged, and based upon my own intuitive leaning, the most advanced form of communication-enhancing technology to this day is the Internet. Reflecting back upon the process of engaging in this research and converting it into my written thoughts, the central discovery that I have come to realize is that if the near-future of the Internet/Web does entail what the gross majority of experts agree will be a convergence of all information humanity has ever produced, in all potential forms of communicating it to all Web users, then it is my conviction that such a convergence will likely pertain to (global) democracy and humanity as well – considering the intimate relationship between these three. In order to justify this claim, I will begin by clarifying what the “Web” even is in its very brief history.
The Internet and the Web
Just like any other phenomenon, the Internet is not static – it is constantly fluctuating. Moreover, this process of change is not random by any means; it is a direct result of human beings. After all, the Internet is a form of technology, which by definition is a human construct. The Internet's evolution, being a direct result of human input and operation, not only offers a glimpse of cultures' evolution, but also – and central to my research here – it provides an apparatus from which to reflect upon and theorize about the specific effect(s) that it has had, is having, and will have on democracy on a global scale.
Throughout this section, I will engage in scholarly discussion with individuals handling the same general questions apropos of what the Internet is, how it has evolved and where it is headed, and the subsequent effect upon global democracy. The first bit of information necessary to acknowledge and consider is just what the Internet's evolution, as of now, has entailed, and just where the world's top authorities on this subject speculate, suggest, and/or maintain it is headed. Let us begin by considering the distinction between Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0.
There is a difference between “Web” and “Internet.” While the Internet has existed well before the 1990s, the Web – short for “World Wide Web” – emerged only 16 years ago in 1995 (SPI International). The World Wide Web, and its inception, is immensely significant to (modern) culture and society because it made publicly available technology that had previously been accessible solely to an elite few (EPN). The reality of this technology's being publicly available is noteworthy, specifically, because the Internet shatters locality. With the Internet, physical barriers mean nothing. Information travels overseas near instantaneously. With the World Wide Web beginning in 1995, now anyone with a computer could tap into “cyberspace” and transcend the informational limitations imposed by physical space.
Web 1.0: Objectivistic and Individualistic
Within years, the “dot com boom” had officially begun as individuals and organizations started fiscally exploiting the World Wide Web and its practical potential. According to Tim O'Reilly, who coined the term “Web 2.0,” Web 1.0 refers to this initial phase of Internet evolution (Hempel). “Shopping carts are Web 1.0” (Getting) because, fundamentally, this period or stage was distinguished by websites such as Google and Amazon, which established an essentially one-sided relationship between the product, or technological platform, and the person, or digital consumer. Google offered a massive search-engine allowing its user to look for any Web content; there is Google on one side, and there is the user on the other; just like any physical vendor, Google gives or feeds “customers” the commodity – in this case information – that they desire. Similarly, Amazon offered what was initially a massive online bookstore; there is Amazon on one side, and there is the user on the other; “Here is what you want. Click and buy it – that simple.”
This one-sided/passive, individual-oriented tendency of Web 1.0 spurred an exponential boom that busted in 2002 (Falls). Too many niches, or areas of expertise/need, had been exhausted within the structure and limitations of Web 1.0 by this time. The same year, weblogs or “blogs” exploded on the Web and gained popularity. The one-sidededness of Web 1.0 shifted to become more pluralistic and inclusive. A blog still related to any previous Web 1.0 phenomenon in that there was a blogger, who “was” the site, giving or feeding content/information to the user in a somewhat one-sided manner. However, this phenomenon was unique and transcendent of the Web 1.0 communication-technological echelon in two primary respects: 1) personability and 2) interactivity.
A blog – e.g., “SangeetKumar.com” – differs from a website such as Google because in the former, author and website have merged, while in the latter, the creators or “people behind” Google remain separate. In short, a blog has this personable quality because, literally, it embodies a sort of “digital diary.” Secondly, any blog encompasses interactivity because users not only have access to the author's (contact) information, but also because they can comment on and discuss whatever (s)he posts. The blogosphere became so prominent not coincidentally following the dot com bust in 2002 because the novelty of this emergent Web phenomenon filled a niche, a hole, a demand, an antithesis, that previous Web 1.0 platforms simply did not capture: personability and interactivity. If the blogosphere represents Web 1.0's transition into Web 2.0, then the “social networking sphere” represents the full actualization of the Web's second evolutionary phase. If Google and Amazon epitomize Web 1.0, then MySpace and Facebook epitomize Web 2.0.
Web 2.0: Personable and Interactive
Boyd and Ellison define a social networking site (e.g. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) as a website allowing users to “(1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (1-3). Boyd additionally describes a social networking site as composed of a “hyperpublic structure,” allowing for the application to “mirror and magnify all aspects of social life” (5-6). Words such as “hyper” and “magnify” are rather accurate in communicating the sort of effect that a Web 2.0 site such as MySpace or Facebook has. Rosen adds that social networking websites amplify social life in the sense that they make it seem more dramatic or “theatrical” (5). Perhaps this particular characteristic, along with personability and interactivity, contributes to the phenomenon's appeal.
What MySpace in 2003 and Facebook in 2004 did that began with blogs in 2002 is emulate the blogging format but take it to a far greater threshold. If the blog is to be represented by the shape of a triangle – with the blogger at the top and the users at the bottom – then the social network is to be represented by the shape of a circle – that is, a circle that is made up of hundreds of thousands and millions of triangle-blogs that are each individual's own profile. In other words, what MySpace and Facebook did to revolutionize the Web and spur its evolution is not only give everyone the opportunity to have their own blog, their own website, their own digital diary, but also – and perhaps more importantly – place all of these blogs belonging to all of these people on the same level (hence, the “circle” as opposed to “triangle” symbolism) and allow the entire mass to communicate, network, and share with itself. YouTube demonstrated and succeeded using the same technique, except not with regard to “The Blog” but with regard to “The Tube.”
Prior to YouTube, a relatively tiny portion of humans were able to broadcast themselves to the rest of the world. Television (prior to YouTube) relates to blogs prior to MySpace/Facebook because it, too, is “triangular,” not “circular,” in its “democraticity.” With YouTube, everyone could and can be a TV star. Likewise, with MySpace and Facebook, everyone could and can be a “blog star” – or, more accurately, a star author. As with many if not all technological advancements, though, triumphs and downfalls together came with the emergence of Web 2.0 and its social networkability.
Among these triumphs is the allowance for greater social capital along with more efficient socialization (Ellison et al, 7). In contrast, among these downfalls is the allowance for data mining and digital predators, which – among other factors – has raised serious concerns about the implications of freely revealing one's identity via the Web (Barnes, 6-7). Data mining is the practice in which organizations retrieve valuable data, or demographic statistics, and use it for their advantage to make a profit. The danger behind digital predators forced a change in the United States' legal system, when a girl using MySpace was stalked and murdered by a random stranger (Madison, 156). For possibilities such as this tragic misfortune, skepticism manifests when the “gap” between “public” and “private” suddenly shrinks with social media.
While older generations may personify more of this skepticism and fear toward the political ramifications of prominent social media, younger generations – as Rosen suggestions – feel differently. If the three main generational groups in this case are Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y, then Generation Y demonstrates a significant difference, statistically speaking, in conjunction with the previous two demographics (Rosen, 2). Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, entails everyone born roughly between the late-1970s and early 1990s. According to Rosen, Y-ers differ from X-ers and Boomers because of a fundamental difference in environmental condition: digital technology. This demographic grew up with video games, computers, cell phones, and, of course, the World Wide Web, whereas the previous two groups had already entered adolescence and matured when the technologies came into being. Subsequently, this demographic “does not use technology, they live it” (Rosen, 2). Rosen backs this statement with empirical evidence.
According to 7th graders as of 2007, “literally everyone” is using their cell phone, texting and browsing the Web, in between class (Rosen, 9). (The same proposition is true relative to my own experience and phenomenological ability.) This direct example is particularly moving for me (despite my being technologically comfortable and savvy relative to this age) because I did not have a cell phone until I was in 10th grade, did not begin social networking (via Facebook) until I was in 11th grade, did not have an iPod until I was in 12th grade, and did not have a smartphone until my firstyear at Denison. Yet these 7th graders, who are now 16 years old, still in high school, are being exposed to all of these things before high school. A scholar such as Wilber might attest that all digital activity is connected to a “layer” of “reality” called the noosphere. In the case of these 7th graders, along with Generation Y, their significantly more conditioned familiarity with the new digital environment that was and is the Internet/Web affects an equally more conditioned familiarity with the noosphere, which, according to Wilber and other prominent scholars, is the totality of all human thoughts, feelings, meanings, and ideas.
Web 2.0 takes the noosphere, amplifies, and dramatizes it, all the while mirroring it from an external standpoint. In other words, and according to this logic and its implications – Facebook (for instance) is, or can be, a “Play of Humanity,” digitally, organically, and collectively orchestrated, quintessential of Web 2.0 and its personable, interactive character, transcending and including something quintessential of Web 1.0 (e.g. Google) and its objectivistic, individualistic character. The question here – that is being begged without any explicit mention so far whatsoever – thus concerns what Web 3.0 will be, as it has not yet happened, according to experts. The remaining questions for which this entire research exploration demands answers concern what experts say about Web 3.0, and how I/we can take that information and use it to argue something unique and valuable regarding how this evolution has affected, can affect, and will affect global democracy as a form of communication-technology or mass/social media.
Web 3.0: Unified and Semantic (?)
Experts agree that Web 3.0 promises to be unified and semantic (EPN). Furthermore, these authorities would maintain that the “positive” of Web 2.0 is its being personable and interactive, while the “negative” is its being too pluralistic, too divergent and chaotic, and not convergent and integrated enough (SPI International). According to Hegel's dialectical principle, Web 2.0 will evolve in addressing its very aforementioned negative. In other words, the positive of Web 3.0 will be in precise accordance with the negative of Web 2.0, all the while still including the positives of the previous two stages by being partially, functionally/harmoniously both objectivistic and personable, individualistic and interactive. Still, the four positives are insufficient for Web 3.0 to be Web 3.0, for it must simultaneously transcend these parts by adding something new (addressing the previous negative, antithesis, or lack) in order to create a greater whole.
Kelly specifies on just how divergent, chaotic, and significantly disembodied the Web is at this time (“Web 3.0”). With Web 1.0, there were individuals as creators feeding to groups of users. With Web 2.0, there are groups of individuals as both creators and feeders for each other. As Kelly recognizes, though, the Web is not so much a “capital W” web as it is (almost paradoxically) “a capital P” plurality of individual webs. In other words, there are many webs or networks constituting the World Wide Web ultimately as the Internet, but there is no “InterNET,” no “Web,” no “Network” – right now, at least. There is only the syntax of all the information coexisting alongside this vast plurality of parts/networks/webs; and yet, the Web lacks semantics (“An Introduction to the Semantic Web”). The previous statement means that there is no global or central meaning and (corresponding) digital application available to, valued and used by all humans with digital access in sync with this meaning. Yes, there is fire; yes, there is weaponry; yes, there is the plow; yes, there is the press; yes, there is electricity; yes, there is the Internet; yes, there is Google, Amazon, PayPal, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter; however – there is not yet a single greatest whole, or next evolutionary stage, transcending and including all of these layers constituting technology's evolution as a whole itself.
Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, contends that “Web 2.0” does not actually “exist” – there is simply a huge ununified plurality of individuals and networks (“Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0”). Whatever “Web 3.0” is going to be, it will be able to run on any sort of device, and will be small, fast, customizable, and distributed virally. Kelly thinks more deeply into the matter. According to this expert,
satellite images of Earth, [online] family tree, all patents, anyone's phone number, everything for sale, government forms, friends online, stock quotes, newspapers, [electronic] sports scores, for-sale ads, real estate prices, library books, street maps, everything on auction, all movies, all regulations, library of congress…didn't exist before the World Wide Web.
In the above remark, he reminds us that the World Wide Web is but 5,000 days young. Web 1.0 happened, certainly, just as Web 2.0 happened and is happening, certainly. There is much likelihood if not sheer necessity for evolution to continue governing the Web as any element of nature or the Universe, continually complexifying and drawing “nearer toward” order and perfection. I side wholeheartedly and wholemindedly with Kelly's optimism.
The Likelihood of a Web 3.0 as Predicted
The Internet, in many ways, did the “impossible,” just as the rise of life, or sentience, or rationality – or democracy, perhaps. Evolutionary biology, depth philosophy, and conflict sociology alike would agree that evolution necessitates yet another transformation of the Internet. While scholars from these seemingly “separate” and “different” fields agree upon this same elephant, unfortunately, many if not all are unaware of each other and their different perceptions, or experiences, or perspectives, or understandings, or ideologies. For instance, Dawkins would certainly agree that evolution necessitates the “impossible” to keep becoming “possible” (The Blind Clockmaker), as, from a more poetic, aesthetic, or “mystical” point of perception, Hegel would certainly agree that logic necessitates Unmanifest “Spirit” to become Manifest World (The Phenomenology of Spirit), as – from a (more) plain, direct, and “pessismistic” point of perception, Marx would certainly agree that conflict causes society to react against itself, and, in so doing, “growing” or “evolving” (Capital). Yet Wilber would point to these three understandings/ideologies and say that each is but referring to a quarter of one synthetically operative lens of perceiving, understanding, and living “reality” (A Brief History of Everything).
Dawkins speaks only upon evolution from a purely mathematical standpoint. Hegel speaks only upon it from a purely intuitive standpoint, complementary to the former lens in the fashion of Einstein's well-known regard, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” While Dawkins' “rational” perspective parallels Hegel's “intuitive” perspective on the nature of evolution (and the implications that this has for the Web's future and our ability to accurately predict it), and while Marx's own perspective integrates the two and focuses solely on the physical nature of human society and civilization – Wilber's (and likely Einstein's) perspective toward this matter would transcend and include those previous three individual ones (almost ironically) because of their being individual and its being comprehensive and integrative of them all.
It would seem innately true that wholesomeness, integration, comprehension, or any other name in accordance with this semantic articulates Chardin's “Omega Point.” If chaos indeed tends toward order (in a universal or all-encompassing sense), then the chaos of extreme plurality that is Web 2.0 at this time will accordingly tend, or evolve, toward the order of integration, equanimity, sheer wholesomeness, that is Web 3.0 in the near future. Just as there is partial truth illustrating Peters' meta-identification between the antimodern, modern, and postmodern ideologies concerning liberalism, just as there is partial truth illustrating the complementary relationship between the Dawkinsian, Hegelian, and Marxist ideologies concerning evolution, so there is partial “truth,” but more importantly value behind social media websites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter comprising and currently “dehydrating” the World Wide Web. Thus arises the proportionately even greater value behind recognizing not only all values in the plurality, but also their relationship to one another and the possibilities that this elucidates. Plurality may be greater than individuality, but the integration of the greatness or value of both plurality and individuality is (by definition) greater than just one or the other.
Democracy, Tribe, Internet, and Web 2.0
If communication (in part) constitutes the essence of democracy, then the Web is perhaps the most democratic phenomenon in existence, and, as evidence suggests, is becoming more and more so (Dahlberg). What is the real value of democracy? The real value of democracy blends with what existed before civilization existed. When tribal villages of our ancestors scattered the planet, before the advent(s) of language, religion, philosophy, schooling, government, etc., “democracy” experienced a sort of equilibrium or utopia. Each village, each tribe, was an extended family that existed for the sake of that group's survival and flourishing. Everyone had a role within this tribe, based upon genetic makeup, mostly, and in relation with hunting, gathering, and leading.
The tribal epoch of humankind's evolution is perhaps the golden age (thus far) not only for democracy but also, and not surprisingly, for the community, as Schemeil would agree with his concept of archeopolitics – which argues in part that a tribe as a hypdemocracy naturalistically imitated Ancient Greece (for instance) as a hyperdemoracy. Everyone had a functional and natural role. Everyone knew everyone in the community. Slavery did not exist and did not have to exist because of the tribal culture of collective respect and care. During this age, perhaps the idea “democracy” had not yet been realized; still, the form of society illustrating it aligns most with what democracy ideally is and signifies. Democracy, conventionally, is government for the people by the people (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Democracy”). Delving into this concept more deeply, however, reveals that the reason why democracy is such a popular idea, so to speak, is that what is best for everyone is indeed what is best for everyone. There is no refuting this statement, from both egoic and (obviously) altruistic points of view.
Maslow reminds us that human nature is not black-and-white and linear at all. Rather, human nature is far more complex and fluid. Humans have more than a body and physical sensations, impulses, and perceptions. Humans also have a heart and emotions, feelings, and passions, along with a mind and thoughts, reflections, and abstractions – at the very least. Relative to the emotional component of human nature, Maslow identifies a fundamental need in all human beings to belong to something greater than the self-alone – a yearning to conform, to commune, and to bond. Perhaps this level on Maslow's hierarchy of needs corresponds to the tribal age/era/context along humanity's own evolution. Such is the truest and deepest value of democracy.
Democracy applies the precivilized, tribal value and virtue of communion, harmony, connectedness, family, conscientiousness to the postcivilized, modern reality of the world in which we live. As it turns out, though, democracy in its ideal and optimal form cannot be fully manifested unless as digital phenomena – such as the Internet and World Wide Web (McLuhan). Why? The answer is psychologically simple. Power tends to corrupt, and those currently with the most global and societal power certainly do not want to lose it any time soon – or ever, at that. Democracy manifested and practiced physically in the “real world” has suffered immoral domination by hierarchy and oppression unto/suppressing abundance and harmony. The latter is Slave, the former Slavemaster; such has been the case throughout the entire epoch of civilization. “Real world democracy,” for this reason, is useless because the Slavemaster has (for the most part) hypnotized the Slave into remaining as the Slave. In promising contrast, “digital world democracy” is equally as useful.
Democracy Gaining Economic/Normative Momentum
I define digital world democracy as being synonymous to, or (at least) inclusive of, Web 2.0 / social media. Personable, interactive digital mediums such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are extremely democratic. YouTube lets the people – the Slave – make Television and share it with everyone. Television – let alone image and sound in general – is a very (potentially) powerful form of medium. Facebook lets the people – the Slave – form networks of tribes with each other and get some feel for the bliss and beauty of tribal harmony, a paradise and glory that has been repressed, disowned far too long. Twitter lets the people – the Slave – create a “global grapevine,” the linguistic and essentially communicative portion of (global) human existence. Twitter phenomenologizes the “news.” “Social media” is a commonplace term because it is successful – and is what it is – because of its democraticity.
Is it possible that the more democratic – or beneficial for the people – a thing is, the higher its value goes? According to economic principle, the latter question seems to answer itself (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Philosophy of Economics”). Value aligns with demand, and demand comes from what is best for the consumer or individual. Whatever is better for this person, whatever is more democratic, has that much more value. Unfortunately, “value” itself is a rather loaded term and deserves greater contemplation and articulation. The economy – meaning collective interest – is directly related with any plausible constructed spectrum of value. However, and tragically, humans can be and are hypnotized into misvaluing and consuming something else of lesser value solely for greater gain toward the hypnotizer/Slavemaster. Yet with the emergence of social media and the Web altogether, everyone – or, at least one third of all human beings – has access to virtually all the information that the world has ever known (“Internet Archive Frequently Asked Questions”).
Despite this apparent clarity and accompanying optimism regarding the Web's democratic value and utility, certainly there is another perspective or side to the equation that we must take into account. Perhaps the Web allows the potential for just as much danger as it allows for goodness, in accordance with how powerful and radical is. Concerns that everyone shares, or could share, in terms of this dangerous potential behind the Web have all to do precisely with the antithetical component of what synthetically makes the Web unique and valuable. That all information humanity has ever produced can be stored and accessed by anyone in virtually any form is almost fantastically awesome and promising, and yet, for this very reason, it can also be rather frightening. Perhaps the Machine will consume humanity infinitely more so than it already has. However, like any form of technology, like any form of power, the predicament lies in the hands of those individuals who are equipped with it; almost as an ethical truism, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The individual frightened of the Web's antithesis, its negative, should be equally as excited for its thesis, its positive – just as this person should be proportionately as emotionally stimulated for all forms of technology in direct accordance with their degree of power in whatever form. In short: If the “new robber-barons” commanding Google, Facebook, and Twitter turned out not to be robber-barons at all, but utopists and proponents of global love and harmony, then there is much to anticipate joyfully – unlike what was (likely) felt before the Web. Having acknowledged this other perspective, let us return to seeing this phenomenon as a positive – but this time, as an antithesis against a deeply embedded and established negative.
As an antithesis, the Web has disrupted and is shattering the old establishment, or “pathological version,” of the prior epoch-thesis by letting the people and not the fearful elite create the sphere of information that primarily dictates collective/global thought. First, the people realize the value in the Web and having access to it. Second, the people take action to create what will be even more attractive within the Web: something that is more democratic and hence (more likely) illuminates greater value. The question being begged here, of course, has nothing to do with everything just discussed, because that is quite acceptable. That the Web is extremely democratic and therefore extremely valuable is quite intuitive and simple to accept even without the aforementioned logical analysis and synthesis. Yet the question remains: What will Web 3.0 entail, and what effect will this (quantum) leap in communication-technology's evolution have on global democracy and humankind as a whole? As I will now uniquely claim, and for remainder of this paper, henceforth consider why this “convergence” or “unification” of the Web – “Web 3.0” – will likely be in conjunction with such an event for both democracy and humankind due to the intimate relation between Web, democracy, and humanity.
Communication-Technology and Democracy
Not only is democracy inherently valuable, but also is communication-technology. Arguably, communication is what makes us human. Rationality and intelligence mean nothing without any means to communicate them. The greatest ideas that humankind has ever produced would have no (extrinsic) value if the individuals grasping them could not or did not convey their understanding to other individuals. While technological advents such as the plow and wheel greatly propelled the inception of civilization altogether, these things could not have been created if an equally effective degree of communication was not present. Just as the technology of the plow surpassed that of the spear or of fire, so the technology of written language surpassed that of the spoken word alone. With the ability to read and write and to utilize a science out of spoken word as such, the capacity for human achievement skyrocketed. Consider just how much more significantly this capacity augmented when the printing press emerged thousands of years later in history.
With the press, now everyone could own a copy of the Bible and not just the small elite telling the masses what to do. On a symbolic level, even, the press – as a form of communication-technology – presented an opportunity for a vastly greater number of individuals to become educated and autonomous thinkers. If whoever reads this text disagrees that communication-technology such as the printing press is inherently valuable for this particular reason, then perhaps this is because the masses cannot always be trusted – especially when given so much more power in the form of literacy and critical thought (Burke). This dilemma can be settled, however, by considering which option is the lesser of two “evils”: giving the masses this opportunity to own books, or denying it from them. If one agrees that the former option is the lesser in this respect (or the significant greater apropos of goodness/value), then perhaps we can agree further that the same pertains to all advances in communication-technology that followed.
The telegraph, for instance, is valuable because of its eliminating the barriers of space/time, which is implicitly a major step in humanity's journey toward globalization and international agreement/understanding (but naturally beginning with the opposite). The same is true with regard to the newspaper, radio, television, Internet, and World Wide Web – 1.0, 2.0, and, as we will see, 3.0. If communication is a good both in itself and for the fact that it improves understanding and connectedness between humans, then it cannot be denied that communication-technology is not likewise in accordance with whatever degree of complexity that technology encompasses. Although it may be sufficiently intuitive to accept and agree that the Internet/Web is radically democratic and even more potentially effective/valuable, consider several reasons as to why this is the case.
The Web as Communication-Technology and Democracy
First, the Web shatters locality. Physical barriers, and physicality itself, means virtually nothing in relation to this digital phenomenon. Physical difference definitely plays a huge role in nondigital affairs. In fact, oligarchy is able to sustain itself and dominate everything else because of physical difference. Oligarchy exploits and capitalizes from physical inequality. However, with the Web, anyone can create anything – to some extent, at least. Anyone with an idea or vision for a new kind of Web phenomenon can turn it into reality. Second, in addition to shattering locality, the Web also transcends authority. What this statement means is that there is no one controller of or authority behind the World Wide Web (“About The World Wide Web”). There may be forces to be reckoned with such as Google and Facebook – but still, it is impossible for either of these organizations to be the authority behind all Web affairs. Moreover, there is no central location or “capital” of the Web. There is no “Washington, D.C.,” whether it would be local or electronic. For this reason, the Web cannot be removed or destroyed; it cannot be taken down (“About The World Wide Web”).
Lastly, this event provides the ultimate workspace. More specifically, this workspace revolutionizes the nature of all kinds of work because of its transcending physicality. The fact that the Web is digital and not material means everything beyond the limits of materiality as a means for productivity. Consider this: Written language was significant because it allowed thinkers to map out and visually represent their sequence of ideas. In this regard, written language and writing it on paper served as an extension of the mind. The same principle is true with regard to the Web but to a much greater / proportionate extent. The Web, in one sense, is a “superextension” of the mind (“From World-Wide Web to Super-Brain”). Furthermore, while material such as paper is subject to decay and impermanence, digital material is not – so long as humans can generate electric energy.
For these reasons, along with the fact that communication-technology is valuable, the Web and its future could be the most valuable form of technology that humankind has ever created/experienced. The Web can provide virtually any kind of information in virtually any form to potentially one-third of the human population (“About the World Wide Web”). If Web 3.0 really will entail a convergence of all such information in all such forms, then such convergence will likely apply to democracy and humanity as well, considering the intimate relationship between these three.
Specifically, this intimate relationship is all about both individuality and plurality. The relation/conflict between the agent and the collective, the individual and the plurality, is one of the ultimate questions indeed for a reason. The relationship between individuality and plurality manifests in democracy because democracy, at its core, is all about achieving optimal harmony between the two. It manifests in humanity because human beings are both individuals unto themselves and parts unto greater systems. As is evidenced, the relationship manifests in the Web specifically in Web 1.0 with its emphasis on user-focused information and in Web 2.0 with its emphasis on group-focused information. The ultimate question of this topic, of the practical implications concerning the likely convergence between Web, democracy, and humanity, is of course, What will this convergence specifically entail? I believe that the best way of addressing this uncertainty is through considering and analyzing the direction that the Web has taken thus far as well as what this information can allow us to infer in light of where it seems to be headed along with what experts have argued.
Three Most General Possibilities for Web 3.0
As mentioned, Web 1.0 is marked by being objectivistic and individualistic, Web 2.0 by being personable and interactive. There are two options to consider here. One is that Web 1.0 serves as the thesis while Web 2.0 the antithesis. It makes sense, therefore, why Web 1.0 is objectivistic while Web 2.0 is personable and why Web 1.0 is individualistic while Web 2.0 is interactive. Plainly speaking, Web users grew tired of its being so “passive” and machinelike, which explains the success of Web 2.0 or social media beginning in the last decade; they grew tired of its being so isolating and lonely, which explains why a social networking site became so popular. Implications of this first option, of understanding the Web's evolution dialectically, is that Web 3.0 will transcend and include both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 – meaning it will be both objectivistic and personable, individualistic and interactive – and more. The “more,” in this case, aligns with the novelty that differentiates a synthesis / new thesis from the preceding status quo. Whatever this novelty may be (given option 1) is open for speculation. The second option is not dialectal but is rather linear. The premise of this option is “the more personable and pluralistic, the better.” If this premise is true (with regard to the Web's evolution), then Web 3.0 will not only be (more) personable and interactive – it will transcend these things by being intrapersonal and intercultural.
My reasoning for this claim is as follows. First, I see that “intrapersonal” is even more personable than “interpersonal” because the former, by definition, concerns the entire depths of an individual's psyche or mind whereas the latter concerns only the social surface. Second, as of now, social media is structured in such a way as to connect likeminded individuals with one another. In other words, social media, as of now, is cultural because it allows cultures or likeminded groups of people to discover each other and connect across physical barriers. However, the Web as of now does not connect cultures themselves as it connects individuals within each one. Put differently, the Web is ethnocentric or intracultural as opposed to being worldcentric, global, and/or intercultural (Wilber). The latter is by definition more interactive, or more pluralistic, than is the current state of Web affairs. If personability and interactivity really are ends or goods in and of themselves, then this conclusion about Web 3.0 is indisputable, no matter how unintrospective and/or ethnocentric one may consider humans naturally to be.
If I had to choose between which of these two options that I see as more likely to be true for Web 3.0, I would actually say both. Perhaps this statement seems rather paradoxical. However, I see otherwise. Intuitively and logically, it makes sense to me that the process of evolution itself is dialectical and that there is deep truth behind Hegel's thesis-antithesis-synthesis distinction. If Web 1.0 is the first major phase or stage and Web 2.0 is the second, if the Web's evolution like all evolution is dialectical, and if the third major phase or stage according to Hegelian theory is the synthesis, then it makes sense to believe that Web 3.0 will be the synthesis between the two previous evolutionary levels. As a synthesis, Web 3.0 will indeed transcend and include the unique elements or aspects pertaining to both levels. Web 3.0 will be objectivistic and personable, individualistic and interactive. Simultaneously, though, as a synthesis Web 3.0 will have to add something new. I believe that this novelty aligns with option 2. The novelty underlying the synthesis that is Web 3.0 will be intrapersonability and interculturality. In more tangible language, all the above means this: Web 3.0 will address both individual (Web 1.0) and collective (Web 2.0) needs. However, Web 3.0 will address these needs like never before in that it will consist of and offer services that are more intrapersonal or psychologically comprehensive/ deep/helpful and more intercultural or worldcentric/global. I cannot infer anything beyond this speculation because that would be too speculative, so to speak.
Web 3.0 and the Human Condition
If Web 3.0 is intrapersonal and intercultural, then the coevolving spheres of democracy and humanity will be affected in proportionate accordance. Democracy will be affected in terms of enhanced psychological and more contextually proficient Web services, and humanity will be affected directly by them. In what form might such services appear? An example of the former might be computer-driven counseling/coaching in all areas of personal concern/growth, or an application that allows people to get into better touch with their emotions and the emotions of others. An example of the (“former”) latter might be the fulfillment of Habermas' dream of a truly public sphere – a transnational platform for dialogue and public debate in which anyone could debate/communicate with anyone about anything abided within a certain scholarly structure of discourse; or an entirely new “country”/economy transcending the level of “nation-state,” and any physical state at that, in its being purely digital and available for anyone aligned with its acknowledged core values to become a “citizen.” The possibilities, according to these two categories, seem quite endless with regard to Web 3.0 and the corresponding convergence within and between democracy and humanity.
Perhaps the future looks quite bright. If humankind becomes more psychologically and culturally competent, then perhaps all problems that result from these current deficiencies will accordingly cease to be. Perhaps the brave new epoch of civilization, induced in part by the emergence of technology, is not some meaningless accident that could just “go either way” after all. Just as the tribal epoch is “precivilization,” perhaps civilization itself will transform into “postcivilization,” retaining the most valuable elements coming from both previous levels. If such a transformation occurs, then at least one-half of it will be absolutely subsequent to the rise of advanced forms of mass media and communication-technology such as the Internet and Web 3.0. To think that while technology may have brought us into the half-hell of civilization, it may now miraculously lead us into some redemptive heaven – is a wishful yet legitimate thought, indeed.
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