The forces that Berners-Lee unleashed nearly three decades ago are accelerating, moving in ways no one can fully predict. And now, as half the world joins the Web, we are at a societal inflection point: Are we headed toward an Orwellian future where a handful of corporations monitor and control our lives? Or are we on the verge of creating a better version of society online, one where the free flow of ideas and information helps cure disease, expose corruption, reverse injustices?
This comes near the end of an article about the unintended consequences of Tim Berners-Lee’s invention. You’d think maybe we might have learned something from the utopian predictions that accompanied each stage of the web’s evolution up to this point, but apparently not. In 1994, I heard people telling me how we’d all be able to access the Library of Congress whenever we wanted. In 2011, I heard people telling me how social media was helping to overthrow tyrants and usher in the slightly-delayed End of History. It turns out that most people used the web to indulge in porn rather than expand their minds, and social media is now being blamed for making the arc of history pull a sharp U-turn. And yet, the faith that flawed humans will finally invent a method or a machine that will somehow transcend the conflicted nature of its creators and solve all problems forever remains undimmed. You know that Solzhenitsyn quote about the line between good and evil running through the heart of each individual? It’s true, which is why wherever we go from here, there we will be. Either/or? No, both/and. On and on forever.