Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Web of Ideas

I want to write an in-depth thing here, but I can't really do that tonight, having spent over two hours just preparing the visual parts of the thing and with church in four and a half hours. I've had two hours of sleep, with no chance of more until I dump sufficient words into this entry. So let's get an introduction going, and I'll try to revisit the subject with something approaching profundity some other time.

This particular train of thought started on Twitter, or, taking the long view, on AOL Mail, or, slightly longer view, on the Outpost, or very long view, on television in the 1970s and 1980s. A few days ago in this blog I mentioned science historian James Burke, whose Connections series of shows and series The Day the Universe Changed led years ago to my buying some of his books and even a Connections computer game. In preparing the entry I checked transmission dates on Wikipedia, imdb, YouTube and elsewhere via Google, and found a Burke-related site that didn't turn up the last time I Googled him. All these connections between web sites led to my explaining a little bit about his work, which is fundamentally concerned with a connective view of innovation. Burke loves to show how seemingly disparate people, events and ideas interact in unexpected ways, increasing knowledge and creating change. Part of his thesis is that you need a macro view of what Douglas Adams called "the fundamental interconnectedness of all things," as opposed to a "reductionist" view of knowledge that causes more and more specialization, so that individuals "know more and more about less and less," and can't effectively disseminate their ideas outside the silo of their specialty.

Some of my open tabs tonight in Firefox, including several James Burke sites.

Well, anyway, because whatever I was ranting about that night reminded me of James Burke and I worked him into the entry, I ended up using the title of one of his books / tv shows for the entry title, which I then promoted on Twitter and Facebook. The next day I got AOL mail informing me that a James Burke enthusiast was now following me on Twitter. I followed him on Twitter, which led me to still more Burke links.

Align CenterMore open tabs, including a web of Doctor Who resources.

Another thread of ideas I followed around the web today started, on the Doctor Who blog Planet Gallifrey. I happened to see the beginning of the entry on my revamped Outpost sidebar, read it, and left a comment. I subsequently revamped my sidebar further with a cities-and-flags visitor counter I nicked from Martha while making the rounds on two or three different memes. The counter isn't perfect; it thinks I live in Phoenix and can't narrow down the point of origin of some folks beyond "United States" or "United Kingdom." But I was pleased to see a number of UK cities pop up overnight, and got to worrying that they were following the link from the Who blog comment to the Outpost, only to be disappointed by the lack of Doctor Who speculation in this blog. So I spent and hour or two writing up my thoughts on the subject of this year's Doctor Who Christmas special, which has a character called "The Next Doctor" in the episode title. Fans are feverishly considering each emerging detail about the upcoming story to try to figure out who the heck he is. My in-depth hypothesizing on the subject on my LiveJournal (so as not to overburden you folks with esoterica) was rendered slightly obsolete later in the day, when a link on the Doctor Who Forum led me to an article with a quote that makes the possibilities even more confusing. The article also led me to the official BBC Doctor Who site, from which I found a link to BBC archived copies of early typed documents from 1962 and 1963 that led to the creation of the original tv series. Amazing stuff!

And that's not even counting the back and forth between the Outpost and blogs of Round Robin participants, and the ideas that inspired. Or the fact that my pastor at St. Michael's was experimenting with Twitter, so I recommended the Dean of the Episcopal cathedral in Phoenix as someone to follow, who immediately started following both of us!

Connections between my open tabs.

Now, none of this results in a cure for cancer or a better way to travel to Mars, a plan for making Detroit car companies viable, or even a job offer for me. The knowledge gained from the day's browsing is essentially trivial, except what I absorbed from two James Burke screencasts. But it does show in microcosm some of what Burke is talking about, the serendipity of ideas connecting across space and time. Web 2.0 enables us to learn more and more about more and more, not just about less and less, and can help to spark new ideas and innovations. Or it can just be a pleasant waste of an evening. My fairly specialized interests led me in several directions on this particular day, but they could have ranged much further.

One very simple set of connections shows me part of what's at stake. Two hyperlinks away from the visionary, scientific Burke's site was a link to a video rant with the following description:

Psalm 2
Saturday, November 29, 2008 9:33 PM
Why do the heathen rage? Obama is the antichrist and this world is doomed! The return of the Lord Jesus Christ is at hand!!
Whoever posted this ill-informed bit of paranoia has a right to do so on his or her own site, assuming the video (which I didn't look at) doesn't violate the DCMA or advocate assassination or treason. But there are people who believe such things, and it's unhelpful to the stability of the country and the world. The Web should be used, in part, to expose people to factual information and encourage rational thought, overwhelming ignorance with a flood of knowledge.

Enough. I've gotta go to bed!


1 comment:

Martha said...

Just reading this made my head spin!