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In which I wander among many topics

Was looking over my site stats, as I do sometimes, and I saw a referral from Daily Pagan News, who promoted my post “Curses“. Thanks for the link!

One of the first things I saw from DPN’s home page was this.

Gave me a chuckle. It was sourced to another tumblr page called teenwitchwendy. I’m not going to check that one out just now, because that leads to link-jumping all night and I have stuff to do. But the name made me think.

When I was a teenager, I knew a lot of pagans. Some Wiccans and Druids, but most of them weren’t so structured and simply called themselves “Pagan”. They were a diverse bunch, happy to agree on the broad outlines of the universe and just sort of fudge the details.

More than once somebody, usually an older person who was kind but not really “part of the group”, expressed the opinion that this whole “alternate lifestyle” thing was just a phase and everyone would grow up and become conservative Christians just like them. Now I haven’t kept touch with most of those people, but as far as I can tell that hasn’t happened. Sure, we all grew and changed, but I’m not aware of anyone who actually did that. Read the rest of this entry

Future History

When ever we create a new technology, there’s a question of how long it’s going to last. This particular issue is well worth considering today, when we have planned obsolescence and the latest greatest thing that you absolutely must pay hundreds of dollars for right now will be useless in five years. But I was thinking about the nature of the internet and wondering how long it will survive.

See the ‘net isn’t a single thing, it’s an infrastructure, a collection of many, many technologies working together. Like roads and sewers the technologies change while the structure remains in place. This means that the internet has the potential to keep existing for a very, very long time. The remainder of human history, perhaps. It might even outlive us, if there are others to maintain it.

Since we tend to archive just about everything redundantly, it also allows for things like the Wayback Machine. Already, it’s possible for you to look at websites that are not only no longer maintained by their creators, but gone from their proper domains, too.

How long can those archives last? If we keep backing things up as we upgrade the servers, and keep using redundant systems that are good at maintaining data integrity, those archives could easily last centuries. It doesn’t seem implausible that they could survive as long as the internet itself.

Which means historians of the future will search internet archives to study our civilization. And since this is the beginning of the age of information networks, this period, right now, will be under intense scrutiny. They’ll be digging into our blogs, our videos, our tweets. Searching for understanding of how this age worked, how things changed. How we dealt with the transition to knowledge being so readily available to anyone with a wifi connection.

It’s a little intimidating to think that scholars of the future might be reading these very words and evaluating how accurate my speculation was. It’s also disconcerting to be speaking of my present in the past tense, come to think of it.

I wonder what they’ll think of it all. Will the internet of that time still be mostly nonsense? Will they marvel at how we once had to fight for free speech and used what were usually glorified rumor-mills to communicate vital information during a crisis? Or perhaps they will see it as a natural progression of the information networks we developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, as logical a next step as telegraph to telephone was, as obvious as using radio to coordinate emergency services. Or will they not know at all, will this data be suppressed or destroyed and lost to the people of the future?

A sobering thought, given the many attempts by many governments to censor or control the flow of information. We’ll just have to make sure they fail, so future generations will know what happened today.

A day offline

So during the SOPA strike I thought it would be interesting to not only black out my site and not post, but to not use the internet at all. The result is a fascinating lesson in how entwined into my daily life the thing has become.

I had already installed the operating system updates when I realized that counted as “using the internet”. But then I went and installed them on the laptop anyways, because there was security stuff in there.

I settled down to read Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, a book I picked up at a library sale for very cheap and never got around to opening. I had only read a few pages before an interesting math puzzle presented itself to me: How close to Hawaii did ancient explorers have to get before they could see it? Read the rest of this entry

The one depends upon the other

Well, so much for writing a day ahead. Anyways, here’s what we’re talking about today:

Topic #270:

… How would you compare the importance of electricity with the invention of the internet? or the cell phone? Can this kind of comparison be made? If you had to lose one of these inventions, which would you keep? And why?

Strictly speaking I don’t think such a comparison can be meaningfully made, but that’s no fun so let’s do it anyway.

Electricity is a natural phenomenon, one required by the laws of physics that our universe works within, and one that our own bodies make use of. Not only are the technologies mentioned dependent on it, if you were to magically remove electricity we’d all drop dead, so I’m calling that the most important!

But it seems more in keeping with the spirit of the question to assume it means the infrastructure we’ve created to run handy electrical devices at home. That puts us in a strange position, because it was adopted so much earlier than the others. The world was really a different place and it’s difficult to say how much of that was directly influenced by it. I do think it’s interesting that the first really world-changing electrical technology was that ancestor of the internet: the telegraph. It’s easy to forget that before that people had to carry messages to their destinations. But that wasn’t really a part of having electricity in your home, as far as I can tell in the beginning that was only used for lights. I say “only” like having artificial light isn’t a big deal, but however incredibly useful there were already many other ways to produce it.

Cell phones feel pretty obvious compared to the others, I mean they’re really just a synthesis of telephone networks & radio, technologies that were old long before anyone had batteries up to the needs of practical cell phones. If nothing else having pocket communication did change one thing forever: horror stories. Isolation is a major part of horror, and those pesky phones need to be taken out right away! Which highlights the incredibly big change cell phones have made: personal safety. The ability to call for help right away has certainly made a a difference.

Finally, the internet. It was game-changing right out of the gate.  Just like the telegraph before it the internet has impacted the world in ways nobody expected. Tactics that worked for centuries have to be modified to cope with the thing. We likely still aren’t fully aware of the ways it’s changed the world, and it’s not done yet.

I’m having trouble deciding just how to interpret “important” in that question. I think in terms of dramatically changing society the internet probably comes out on top, at least if you count the sort of smartphone software that uses the internet. But of course you always have to remember that both internet and mobile phones depend on the electrical infrastructure. In the long run they are subsets of the ongoing impact of widely available electricity. Bah.

I suppose if I could have some sort of magic computer & cell phone that didn’t need electricity, I could live comfortably washing my clothes & dishes by hand, keeping my food in an icebox, reading by candles or gaslamps. Remembering to wind the clocks. I’d miss the fans in the summer. But that’s silly, because I almost never use my cell phone, and I’ve only had it since the end of August. So I’ll keep my internet first, and then the thousand little conveniences of home electricity. The cell phone is handy in emergencies, but otherwise I can take it or leave it, really.

Ta ta for now.

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