The Internet and the Democratization of Knowledge

The InternetWith “The Internet” appearing as a trending topic on Google these past few days, amid talks of plans that could potentially alter its trajectory as an equalizer of the volume of voices, the moment demands some commentary on the impact that the Internet has had on the advancement of the human species. It is easy to take for granted the role that the Internet plays in the daily lives of people across the world. There is some trick of human psychology that causes human beings to simply accept wondrous things as if they have always existed, and then pound the dinner table with their silverware clutched in hand, demanding more. Novelty is a fleeting, transient state that soon gives way to baser concerns. Sometimes people would do well to spend a moment of reverence, to contemplate how far the species has come. Of particular wonder is how knowledge has gained in the efficiency of its transmission, and how the Internet has contributed to its democratization.

The very point at which knowledge of previous civilizations begins to fall under the category of “history” rather than others such as “archeology” or “anthropology” is often the point at which a civilization in question has developed writing. History is basically the study of an accepted record, and those other disciplines amount to inference and investigation in lieu of a more direct method of communication. The Internet is, in essence, an exponential development along the lines of what the written word has always sought to do; to function as a currency in the storage of knowledge.

the internet
Example of a Gutenberg Bible

The development of writing itself represented an advancement in preserving the structural integrity of knowledge, preserving it more and better, though in those early times there was an attached hierarchical status required of the keepers of the written word (or pictograph, or hieroglyph). Perhaps it was the early hoarding of the knowledge of writing, between the artisanal classes and  clergy, that contributed both to the term “clerical” enjoying a lengthy colloquial association with what is now called data entry, and a sort of dim, occult aesthetic that is somehow subliminally intertwined with pre or para-Roman runes and symbols. The supernatural aspect of the modern time, in keeping with its traditional association to the arcane element of the symbolic representation of knowledge, belongs to the strange characters of software engineers, entered into CSS fields to summon the magical occurrences that bring the Internet to life. Accordingly, with the entrepreneurial opportunities it offers,the Internet represents the latest and best result of the human endeavor in the direction of equality of opportunity through the democratization of knowledge.

In the early days of quills and parchments, what books existed were wrought through the painstaking life’s work of the acolytes of monastic orders, charged with no less than what they believed to be the mission of recording and preserving God’s own voice. In those times, the ownership of a book was a luxury so bourgeois that an ordinary person would not realistically aspire to it. After writing itself, the next great leap in the dissemination of knowledge was Gutenberg’s press, whereby a book was constructed of a batch, rather than as an individual endeavor.

The increase in productivity so altered the supply and demand curve that for the first time in human history, a family could have their very own bible. In light of all of this, what the Internet poses in terms of a great leap forward, is nearly unlimited access to nearly unlimited volumes of work, of nearly unlimited quality, nearly for free. Knowledge is power, and today, for the average individual, the only barrier between themselves and knowledge is their desire of it. In that sense, the Internet is the great equalizer, its power to flatten the knowledge curve along the prosperity axis being immeasurable. The Internet is the penultimate force in the democratization of knowledge.

Opinion by Brian Whittemore


The University of Texas at Austin

Photo by Anton Chiang – flickr License

Inset Photo by NYC Wanderer – flickr License

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