On Using Historical Metaphors for Technological Change

Overall, the reflections that this weeks reading inspired in me haven’t necessarily changed my perceptions of the internet rather than strengthening a lot of my old perceptions and beliefs. I’ve known for a long time that the internet is not the ideal that a lot of people want it to be. That isn’t to say that it is bad, it just isn’t necessarily a place of free information where kings & popes have the same rights as serfs & fools, so to speak. Based on that horrible joke, you can infer which of the metaphors I liked most for the internet in this week’s reading. 

I really enjoyed the twitter thread by Alex Singh that compared the internet of the early days to the nomadic system and our current situation to a  more feudal system. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that summed up and clarified my image of the internet better. I must admit that I am a major history nerd, particularly medieval history, so I found this reading to be very interesting. I particularly liked the observation about the internet “nomadism” where people “had to navigate the web like nomads: from point to point, from link to link” and the comment about more tech-savvy users working as a kind of priestly privileged class that can navigate more freely than other users (Singh). This metaphor does a brilliant job of illustrating the power that companies like Facebook and Google hold over the proverbial layman of the web, ie the common user. The feudal lords do everything in their power to limit the power of the people by offering them something like a house, land or free internet space. The layman has no idea that he is getting the bad end of the bargain, only that he is being supported by the feudal lord. I think this idea makes it very clear just what kind of system we’re working with. 

It also makes me excited for what possibilities exist for the future. If we are now in the feudalistic part of the historical timeline, how will we advance? Will we become a democracy? A communistic system? A meritocracy? A constitutional monarchy? I think that by examining tech through the lens of history we revitalize it in many ways. We also give it historical significance, which is super important, especially in days like these with the news mirroring the 1940s and 50s in dark twists. 

I also really liked the fact that Singh didn’t really favor either of the systems. He had pointed things to say about both nomadism and feudalism. I really like this perspective, as I think it is the most realistic and unbiased, allowing readers to make their own judgments about both systems. 

Work Cited

Singh, Alex. 2018. On the Web’s transition from nomadism to feudalism. Twitter.

One Reply to “On Using Historical Metaphors for Technological Change”

  1. Moorea, first off love the gifs. I had a good chuckle over them lol. I needed something to read to get inspired to write my own reflection. I agree with you about the twitter thread – I never saw the Internet as these historical/political movements and it was pretty neat to see it described in that way. It also made me hopeful for the Internet – maybe with this insight, we have the power to bypass systems that never really worked. Maybe we can learn from our mistakes (hopefully).

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