23 Jun 2010

What's going on on the Internet?

This is taken from a lecture before the Harvard Natural History Society by William James on Great Men and their Environment. It was published in October 1880.

"The community may evolve in many ways. The accidental presence of this or that ferment decides in which way it shall evolve. Why, the very birds of the forest, the parrot, the mino, have the power of human speech, but never develop it of themselves; some one must be there to teach them. So with us individuals. Rembrandt must teach us to enjoy the struggle of light with darkness, Wagner to enjoy peculiar musical effects; Dickens gives a twist to our sentimentality, Artemus Ward to our humor; Emerson kindles a new moral light within us.

But it is like Columbus's egg. "All can raise the flowers now, for all have got the seed." But if this be true of individuals in the community, how can it be false of the community as a whole? If shown a certain way, a community may take it; if not, it will never find it. And the ways are to a large extent indeterminate in advance. A nation may obey either of many alternative impulses given by different men of genius, and still live and be prosperous, just as a man may enter either of many businesses. Only, the prosperities may differ in their type."

Now think of all the trends - right from web-mail, to video uploads - that started on the Internet, and went on to become integral and near-ubiquitous facets of modern social interactivity. This is evolution happening before our own eyes. And it is faster now than ever before - simply because anyone with access to the Internet can now profoundly influence society!

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