The world at your feet

The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

(Franz Kafka)

In grade school, I often deferred to my parents’ 1992 Encyclopædia Britannica set, which held a prominent space in our living room, when I had an assignment that required a bit of research. I felt lucky–and a bit superior, I must admit–to have such a thorough and well-regarded source of information right at my fingertips. Practically anything I might want to know about, it seemed, was right on that bookshelf. Whew.

Now, that set seems like a relic.

Who needs a hundred pounds of printed material whose contents will be obsolete within a few years anyway, now that we have the Internet? With a four-pound device and a wireless connection to this global network, I can access any information from an up-to-date version of the Encyclopædia, not to mention a veritable deluge of scholarly entries from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and numerous other specialised sources. (Forgive the British spelling; I couldn’t resist.)

Through this interface, I can read news almost as it happens–as a matter of course–and I can follow magazines on any subject; and I can discuss this information with others who are reading it at their own terminals located around the world, all in real time. These are people with whom I never would have imagined, a couple of decades ago, I would ever speak.

This is a portal to a globally-connected communication network, and it’s a little screen sitting on my desk. I have access to much of the knowledge and research of my entire species (over its entire history), with just a few minutes and a few words typed into a device the size of an average hardback book. I can converse with people sitting at similar terminals separated by hundreds or thousands of miles’ distance. I can reach all of this without standing up from my desk, inside my home. I can carry it with me, too, but I can just as well connect to a terminal at any of numerous other locations. The network is ubiquitous, as are its terminals. It is communications interface, media outlet, entertainment complex, publishing center, darkroom, library, and storage cabinet at least as large–figuratively–as a house.

How can I not be amazed?

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