Aristotle’s Internet

SocialAnimalIn Book 1 of Aristotle’s Politics he begins with a statement that I find to have rather interesting consequences. Aristotle says that “…the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who, by nature and not by mere accident, is without a state, either a bad man or above humanity…” A number of things are concluded in that statement. The first is that the state and by extraction society is a natural development of human nature. The second conclusion is that Human nature is of a political orientation, and that we are unavoidably social creatures. The third is that this social aspect of our humanity is what defines us from the animals and whatever deities might exist.

One interesting consequence of this statement is an explanation of our creation of the Internet. The Internet is simply a massive number of computers all linked together and sharing the common spaces of web servers. A server is a hard drive (usually many hard drives) that is connected to the network and is open to all users. These web servers are where websites exist. The domain names are simply the file names of these sites and are used to direct your computer to the right server.

The only reason it costs any money to have a website at all is that all of the servers are owned by someone, so they charge “rent”, so to speak, for the space the your files take up. And somewhere along the way someone had the clever albeit exploitative idea to create every possible file name (domain name) so that when someone wanted to make a file of the same name, the second party would have to pay the first party for the right to name their web site such-and-such. These “first parties” were the “dot commer” millionaires that you heard about in the early 80’s when the internet first started to take off.

Already we have seen that in many ways the internet is analogous to many villages or states. Even the language that can be applied, “renting” server space, or sharing the common space, has a direct link to the way we structure our cities and towns. And now that we’ve gone over the more technical aspect of how the Internet works, let’s take a look at how we have come to use the Internet, and how it relates to this idea of the Political Animal; Man.

The mere fact that we have taken a device that was simply invented as a shortcut for making complicated calculations and elevated it to become a platform for communication is a testament to our social nature. An interesting example of this is an exercise that is common to almost every programming lesson plan called the ‘hello world’ lesson. this is an exercise  meant to be a simple way to get the student(s) to see a line of code in work. You simply write a command telling the computer, in the coding language of choice, to show the words “Hello, World!”. That’s all, just two words, but the words could be any words, you could have the computer say “This message is written in Java” or “Computer Code”, but instead the chosen words to which a huge number of classrooms have gravitated are words of salutation; a greeting; a social cue.

We turned what could have served a perfectly useful role as a number crushing machine into a means of sending messages to our fellow man, which speaks volumes. And we didn’t just stop at chatrooms and email, no that what not intimate enough; not social enough. We had to take it even further, we now have sites devoted to sharing you daily events, your minute- to -minute thoughts, there are even servers setup so that you can live stream you life via webcam and with the invention of devices like the iPhone and Android Phones, it is possible to share your whole life with everyone that cares to tune in, Twenty-four-Seven.

We can now share and communicate with each other via text, photographs, audio, video, and every combination you can think of over the internet. We can share our thoughts and feelings, tell stories and share news with each other. We share our interests and hobbies, our experience and lessons we’ve learned. The world is a now a wide web of interconnected lives. It is easier now more than ever to not just know and take pity on those in the world that are suffering, but to understand and share in their struggle, making the struggle all the easier for everyone.

Aristotle was right all those years ago, when he dubbed the human race a “political animal”. At every moment in our history when we could have taken a step away from each other and distanced ourselves from our fellow men, we have take the path which connects us not just with a few close friends that we happen to share a common space with, but the path that connects us the the greatest number of our peers as possible.

And that’s my take on Aristotle’s internet.


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