The beauty of the Web

Yesterday I talked about Anneli Rufus’s book, which closed its chapter on technology with a rather lyrical sentence about the Web, still true today (give or take a few video sites) even though the book was written in 2003:

“[…] The keyboard is a forest, is a meadow, is the open sea, a habitable planet, a pot of gold, an island, the palace where the prince is looking for a princess, Shangri-la, the Serengeti, Swedish lessons twenty-four hours a day.”

I was reminded on an even older piece of commentary, published in 2000 in Harper’s Magazine, an admittedly rather overwrought excerpt from David Berlinski’s The Advent of the Algorithm, a book whose fortunes weren’t helped by today’s buzz about algorithms (it wouldn’t be out of print if it had only even sold one copy per Google employee):

“Dawn kisses the continents one after the other, and as it does, a series of coded comunications hustles itself along the surface of the earth, relayed from point to point by fiber-optic cables, or bouncing in a triangle from the earth to synchronous satellites, serene in the cloudless sky. There is good news in Lisbon and bad news in Seoul, or the reverse; mountaineers reaching the summit of K2 send messages to their fearful spouses and then slip into sleep, laptops beeping until their batteries (and their owners) go dead; there is data everywhere, and information on every conceivable topic: the way in which raisins are made in the Sudan, this history of the late Sung dynasty, telephone numbers of the dominatrices in Los Angeles, and pictures, too. A man may be whipped, scourged, and scoured without ever leaving cyberspace; he may satisfy his curiosity or his appetites, read widely in French literature, decline verbs in Sanskrit, or scan an interlinear translation of the Iliad, discovering the Greek for “greave” or “grieve”; he may search out remedies for obscure diseases, make contact with covens in South Carolina, or exchange messages with people in chat groups who believe that Princess Diana was murdered on instructions tendered by the House of Windsor, the dark demented devious old Queen herself sending the order that sealed her fate.”

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