Bracket for a moment the question of the existence of such things as angels, demons, and God. Their reality or lack thereof is irrelevant to this discussion, what is relevant about them is that the internet has analogous roles or positions to such things. That’s what I’m going to talk about here.
Imagine for a moment that the internet is like a parallel world. It sorta is… it had addresses and entities in it (not all humans, either, there are bots), but it is becoming more like it as artificial worlds gain more and more reality. Right now it is a “sub-world” but as tech advances it will become more and more real (hopefully stopping short of the Matrix).
Now, let’s say for a moment that Al Gore actually did invent the internet, and was even now still in charge of it, in a completely legitimate and authoritative way (this charge against Gore – saying that he claimed to have invented the internet – is false by the way). Well, then he’d be the “god” of the internet wouldn’t he? Currently, there is no-one in control of the internet, just various groups controlling various domains, some vying with each other for power, some satisfied with what they have. The internet, then, is rather polytheistic. There are “gods” for different things: whether it be assigning IP addresses, hosting blogs, social media, content providers, etc. Visit and propitiate (username and password, sometimes a fee…) the right god to get the right thing done.
Moving on from this, the notion of “god” begins to fail. These polytheistic entities really are not so much gods as they are more like groups of lesser beings. The internet has no single “god” and instead it has groups of individuals who approximate minor gods. But since humans are not groups, we are individuals, what are we individual humans then, in relation to the internet?
When it comes to the internet, we individual users are not gods: we are like angels and/or demons. In Christian theology, angels and demons do not exist inside of our world; they exist outside of space and time and instead interact with the world by having not a “presence” but a “point of action.” This is exactly how any human works with the internet. We do not “live” or exist in any real way “in” the internet. We exist out here “in real life” and instead we “surf” the virtual world; move our point of action from place to place. This parallel fascinates me because it is an instance of technology beginning to radically alter the way humans can act in the world. On the internet we are no longer so much like apes as we are like angels – the parallel is there whether you think theology is bunk or not.
A group of angels and demons can come together cooperatively to approximate a minor god, as described above. These groups typically cooperate, but not always. Groups like Anonymous throw wrenches into the system, and so do various national governments at times. But overall, the internet has never been threatened with collapse (at least not yet…); it exists in a stable way being supported only by “angels,” and of course our “real” reality itself. The internet is an angelically synthesized polytheism.
Technology changes the world in such interesting ways – ways so unusual that we may need to resort to our theological and mythological traditions in order to better understand it. Pure tech-speak is not good enough for most of us. The tech wizards understand that stuff, not so with us more minor angels. It helps, but we understand it differently and perhaps better by analogizing with stories that make more sense: the stories of our human ancestral past.
The big difference, of course, with the theologies and/or myths of the past is that now WE are the entities in the stories, not just the subjects of them. This is a novum of history, that technologically and psychologically we have clawed our way up the scala natura from animal towards angel and god.
We may only be such beings in a derivative and virtual sense, but the truth is that this has never been the case before in any sense at all. This is worth pondering as we continue on this arc of progress, as the derivative and virtual theologies and mythologies grow in reality.
And the question I ask is the ethical one: “Are we ready for this?”