Last week I listened to a talk by Shane Hipps, a Porsche “consumer anthropologist” turned Mennonite minister. The speaker, clearly aware of the contradictory nature of his background, made a very interesting observation about the digital age. He essentially said that we are, as a society, experiencing a shift of great magnitude in history which reflects one of the greatest changes humanity has ever experienced: literacy.
Moving from an oral tradition to a literate society—in which letters allow people to commit their thoughts to memory—fundamentally changed the way society and individuals thought. It freed individuals to think on their own without having to commit their ideas to the collective memory of their tribe. It also changed the ability of the social groups to sense the emotional state of its individuals, because they could now exist in an abstract, individual mindset.
So, agrarian societies relied on the community to remember and structure their ideas. The result of this community conceptual framework was an empathic connection between members of the community. Writing, on the other hand, allows individuals to remove themselves from the older framework and commit their thoughts to paper resulting in a loss or shift in the empathy of the culture or society. In a digital age, however, there is a new shift: one of removal to connection at a distance.
This concept: empathy at a distance or a digitally-connected community, made me consider the connections in the Semantic Web. The in’s and out’s of the SemWeb have been argued, discussed, debated, and explored technologically. Many blogs and sites have huge amounts of content devoted to the definitions of SPARQL and RDF. Abstractions have been published discussing the applications of this new technology. Sir Tim Berners-Lee refers to the Semantic Web as ‘The Web done right.’