One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now… Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
Dillard understands that writers thrive on insight into each other’s process.
For a decade, the Web was dominated by writers. Programmers initially controlled the ways in which the Web was constructed, but writing and programming are fraternal twins. Both involve coding, and coding is simply the transmutation of something seen or experienced—whether tangible, ephemeral, or abstract—into symbols.
Since the mid-1990s, imaginative authors have been adapting written language to the Web. To suit their individual purposes, they experimented with hypertext and modified a multidimensional model incorporating links that can take readers (who came to be referred to as users) on a circuitous route through a complex subject in hyperspace. It’s taken years for an influential mass of casual users to recognize the value of information that is “linked up” to original sources, full texts, definitions, endnotes, illustrations, captions, encyclopedia entries, commentary, and—yes—shopping carts and checkout.
It’s also taken this long for Tim Berners-Lee’s original purpose for the Web to be taken up by mainstream users. Berners-Lee, who published his formal proposal for the World Wide Web in 1990, intended the Web to be used for the management of information and “collaborative authorship” as a service to the public. In other words, sharing ideas and knowledge rather than merely pushing products and services has been the goal all along. Calling the concept Web 2.0 only denotes an implementation phase that Berners-Lee hoped would occur six months after his initial proposal.
In 1999, Berners-Lee wrote in Weaving the Web:
The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect—to help people work together—and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly, represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is of the sort we intend.
When technology evolves quickly, society can find itself left behind, trying to catch up on ethical, legal, and social implications. This has certainly been the case for the World Wide Web.
Purists decried the inevitable commercialization and segmentation of a global network endowed with the potential to unearth free access to knowledge and information. Echoes of those early advocates’ arguments can still be heard in the blogging community, among online gamers, in the words of inspired philanthropists, and in the creations of artists who work in digital media. Although the Web is well found for the voyage, the heartbreaking struggle to carry on the course toward a vision of unity is occasionally expressed. A single elegant word conjures the dread of barricades:
We all must make a living. Fortunate are the few talented enough to do so by encoding inspiration. Entire lives are devoted to work that is much less meaningful. Many of us endure a sustainable level of cognitive dissonance while we generate code—regardless of the language—designed foremost to result in profits that support our salaries and maintain our standards of living. The potential for community that the term Web 2.0 is meant to describe too often gives way to discussions of capturing market segments and ensuring profitability.
When our livelihoods depend on it, we conform to the implicit demands of our businesses or our employers. Our survival instincts sometimes prevent us from expressing our thoughts and acting on our values. Transparency is eclipsed when our jobs require us to overlook ethical and aesthetic conflicts and align ourselves with the more powerful. We leave risk-taking to those with less to lose: the young, the foreign, the radical misfits. We stop learning from each other’s process.
Meanwhile, Web 2.0 has struck a surging online community who possess an overwhelming array of creative methods to convey their messages. Relatively recent and ongoing technological developments have made the Web a visual artist’s wellspring. Without realizing what’s happening, we’re absorbing information in the form of Web-based video, audio, text, maps, lyrics, images, data, graphic displays, animation, and conversation—and, significantly, endless configurations of these channels of expression. There’s no stanching the flood.
“These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”