Thirty years ago on March 12th, 1989, the idea was born which made the internet possible. A young British researcher working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research proposed a method for one computer to exchange information with another. Tim Berners-Lee suggested a “hypertext transfer protocol” – http for short. A protocol is a point of transfer and engagement. It overcomes isolation by providing for networking permitting geometric growth in aggregation of raw data, useful data, knowledge, insight and collective opinion.
The first remarkable conclusion to draw and treasure from what Berners-Lee did is to note that ideas make a difference. They can be foundational. They are the genius skill set over the centuries of Homo sapiens.
Less substantial than gossamer, ideas nevertheless have power for good – but also, let us not forget, for evil too – as we just witnessed in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Today, because of what Tim Berners-Lee thought of, there are some 2 billion websites in the world and how many uses of the internet every second and how many bits of data stored in servers?
Without Berners-Lee, there would be no smart phones, social media or Amazon.
The second conclusion I suggest we should always appreciate is that it was capitalism, not government, which brought the internet to humanity and changed its way of living forever into the future.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in northwestern Europe, it has been markets and private capital which have taken technologies, tested them, refined them and made them useful for customers. Money from customers happy to buy flowed to makers who grew new technologies to scale.
Thirdly, the internet revolution, like Guttenberg’s previous invention of moveable type – also starting with an idea, an insight, a brainstorm, a thought – has increased the importance and value of each individual person. The internet gives power to ideas by permitting them to expand anywhere others can access websites or engage in internet communications.
The internet has moved humanity beyond materialism as the principle source of wealth to intangible forces of mind and heart as the creators of wealth.
This means that we should invest in “human capital” more than ever before. People no longer need to contribute mostly labor to production. They can make themselves valuable to the system in many ways now. Marx’s proletariat has gone “mental.” Thus, the 19th century conception of social justice as a power struggle over cash – the “cash nexus” – which pitted the forces of capital against labor is no longer relevant. The zero-sum tug of war between capitalism and socialism has been dumped in the “dustbin of history.”
We need new “ideas” about how to achieve social justice in the internet age.