Like the Industrial Revolution, the dawning of the Digital Age has radically transformed human behavior and life. Entire industries have fallen by the wayside, only to be replaced by new commercial opportunities. Friends, family members, and complete strangers share thoughts, feelings, opinions, and photographs. Information, in varying degrees of accuracy, rests in the virtually infinite repository of the Worldwide Web. Commercial and social networks and movements are born, stagnate, and fade away.
As was the case with fire, the wheel, the written word, the printing press, the horseless carriage, telephone, radio, television, and other technological breakthroughs, the Worldwide Web, or in the vernacular – Internet, has irrevocably altered the landscape of our globe, providing new vistas to its inhabitants. Job seekers can scour the world for opportunities, as can individuals for friends, lovers, and spouses. People and businesses can partner with others so inclined regardless of location. In a digital world, time zones, oceans, nations, and continents meld into a unified digital planet. Real estate is replaced by domains and physical addresses by URL’s.
The virtual world of the Internet co-exists, seamlessly intertwines, and sometimes impinges upon its physical counterpart. Traditional “brick and mortar” businesses, loathe to forego any revenue opportunity, build commercial Web presences. Web-based enterprises procure product and partner with traditional business entities, as well as affiliate with other digital content purveyors. Family members, friends, and acquaintances correspond via email, chat, and instant message each other. Social and professional networking sites permit individuals to reacquaint themselves with old contacts and develop new ones. Some sites create virtual worlds in which you can build and live a virtual existence, an avatar substituting as your corporal presence within the virtual world. A number of enterprising individuals have even found ways to earn money in the physical world from their virtual lives.
As people spend more time in the virtual world, it is reasonable to conclude that they will spend less in the physical one. One might, therefore, infer that the maturation of the Digital Age may produce isolationism among the world’s populace, that most people will abide within a cocoon of their own choosing facilitated by the Internet. While a virtual existence may be appealing to many during trying periods in their lives, it can never replace life in the physical world. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press heralded the spread of information from the learned few to the masses. Yet, it did not precipitate any large-scale flight by the burgeoning population of readers into the relative fantasy of literature. Rather, it propagated information and knowledge to society at large and contributed to the overthrow of tyranny and institution of republican forms of government.
The Internet can do the same, but on an exponentially larger scale. Unlike the printing press whose means of production were controlled by those with money and influence, the Internet provides anyone with a virtually free platform from which to inform, educate, and promote. Absent the control exercised by monied interests over the content of the print and broadcast media, an individual can utilize the Internet to give voice to his thoughts, opinions, and philosophies to a worldwide audience.
Of course, the ability to reach an audience on the Internet is not a matter of certitude, for the Internet is very much like an enormous stadium packed to its rafters with the entire population of the world all speaking at once. To be recognized and heard over the din, one must have a message that is meaningful to at least a small segment of the virtual world community.
And yet, it is the very scope and seeming chaos of the Internet from which its own unique order is established. Search engines and other types of content aggregators scour the Internet and catalog information, providing a reference source for the individual reader and rewarding more frequently viewed content via higher relative placement in search results. Through such filters, content is indexed and categorized.
Popularity, however, is no guarantee of value. Yet, ideas with merit, like water, always seem to seek their own levels, inevitably achieving their desired destinations. Like pearls of rare beauty, meaningful concepts propagated on the Internet are discovered and touted by their discoverers to kindred souls seeking such knowledge and substance. Thus, even the lone intellect whose ideas can expand the knowledge base and facilitate the advancement of civilization finds a voice and a welcoming audience on the Internet.
In the free flow of ideas in a worldwide dialogue lies an opportunity never before presented to the common man: the chance to contribute intellectual capital, or even take the lead in the creation of a new world order. In the digital world, we can establish relationships and present thoughts and perspectives as relative equals, liberated from distinctions based upon wealth, social standing, or physical appearance. As the digital world displaces the artificial barriers of nations and the differences occasioned by race, culture, and gender, we will come, incrementally but inevitably, to the realization that we all inhabit the same small planet and that what we share in common far outweighs our individual differences. For the inhabits of a world torn by sectarian-engendered strife, this digital union represents a beacon of hope for the advancement of civilization and betterment of mankind.