Conquering the Darkness

“We are all murderers and prostitutes—no matter to what culture, society, class, nation one belongs, no matter how normal, moral, or mature, one takes oneself to be.”

—R. D. Laing, Scottish psychologist, born October 7, 1927

Conquering the Darkness

Punkah in Church of Saint Francis, Kochi, India

I’m thinking about how to measure the value of having the Internet always on and available everywhere to everybody.

  • Heard two twenty-somethings talking about school. They were tut-tutting about how hard life was back in the olden days when people had to go to the library to look things up. They’re right. Think of the distinction between data and information. Information is what data becomes when it has been organized and indexed. A library is an indexed collection of physical books. The index expedites the retrieval of information by allowing the user to find the books she needs. But now she can have indexed, instant access to all the information written in those books from anywhere. Not to mention that she can copy and share that information a lot more easily than if it continued to be trapped inside of those paper books.
  • Yesterday I was (trying to) work with a colleague in a place with inadequate connectivity. It was literally impossible to finish what we had planned to do together. We divided the tasks and headed for places with better connectivity. I’m still working on my part; but I retrieved the list of Western Massachusetts towns and cities I needed in under a minute. I learned how to scrape the table to a Google Spreadsheet in under five minutes.

Economists argue about whether the low-hanging fruit of modern technology has already been consumed. Some believe that advanced economies are condemned to a low-growth future because the good stuff is gone (the resource-extraction model of science and technics: we’ve reached peak knowledge). Some argue that the advance of digital technology and the Internet are less important to economic growth than the adoption of electrical power was in the 20th century.

We now have the ability to access all of human knowledge and communicate about it in real-time with anyone on the planet. The electrical grid let us conquer the darkness. What will the digital knowledge grid do? We can’t have exhausted the possibilities in such a short time. I think we haven’t scratched the surface.

Osram lamp 1910 high candle power type Forty Years of Electrical ProgressI just Googled “Who said ‘Knowledge is power’?” Francis Bacon wrote it during his off-hours from writing Shakespeare’s works. Thomas Jefferson used the phrase at least twice. The first time concerned the foundation of the University of Virginia. Jefferson saw the democratization of information as key to the development of American society. The second one is about international relations. Jefferson’s point was that in 1820 foreign powers were ahead of the United States in the appreciation and exploitation of the importance of knowledge in a modern society.

The Electrical Revolution, sometimes called the Second Industrial Revolution, radically increased the availability of convenient mechanical power and radically improved its usability. One of its first killer apps (after electric lighting) was the electric fan. Human ingenuity being what it is, there were already fans in the world driven by steam or water power. They were limited to industrial use, of course. Individuals perspired or used paper hand fans driven by their own muscles. Rich people could employ punkahwallahs.

The Internet Revolution makes all knowledge available to everyone and makes it easy to apply to the work of the world. Many of us remember what research in a paper library was like (Not bad. Libraries are nice places. But we can get a lot more done with digital). Many remember what collaborating on paper documents was like (Pretty bad. Remember carbon paper?) Only about two billion of the six billion or so smart, creative, curious people in the world are connected so far. I look forward to seeing the wonders the rest of us come up with.


Today’s Events

MONDAY October 7  
1:00-3:00PM Springfield Basics of Starting a Business


What the heck is a glove compartment doing in my car, anyway?

Car Cigarette Lighter“…Before it disappears for good, let’s take a moment to appreciate the the lowly car cigarette lighter socket. After all, for decades it was the most standardized, portable source of electricity after batteries. No matter where you went in the world, you could carry a charger made for a car cigarette lighter socket and it would fit in the socket, and deliver a reliable 12 volts of electricity….”

Hyundai is Killing off the Car Cigarette Lighter

The Last Word

I had forgotten about R.D. Laing, a famous figure in my youth. Clearly conventional human society just pissed him off. His hatred and contempt for bourgeois child-rearing shows in our last word for today:
“We are all in a post-hypnotic trance induced in early infancy.”

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