- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

Just some 10 years ago this Tower of Babel we call the Internet became widely available. Experientially, what began for many of us as an incremental step, a listening device into the outer reaches of cyberspace, now registers as a dissonant, cacophony of sights and sounds at supersonic speed.

I can still remember my first little slowpoke, U.S. Robotics modem with its high-pitched connecting tone hooking me into the AOL galaxy. Today, I’m dodging pop-ups, porn and pill offers faster than I could ever maneuver the little space ship in Atari’s Asteroids’ game. Now, messages come in so many various forms and formats from blogs and pod-casts to streaming video and junk-spam. Half of the spamola is so utterly indecipherable, it could only be read by an interpreter at the National Security Agency.

Likewise, as we chatter in chat rooms and transmit text messages speedier than you can say synapse, we’re communicating so quickly our brains are fast becoming overloaded — tilting toward a crash.

According to the account in Genesis Chapter 11 of the Bible, the Tower of Babel was built by a united humanity to reach the heavens. To prevent the project from succeeding, God confused their languages so each spoke a different tongue and they no longer could communicate and the work shut down.

In trying to know and understand everything, we’ve built our own Babel by launching satellites, laying down fat cables and building a multitude of towers, wiring it all together in a Web.

But does this Web connect and allow us to all talk together in one voice or overload us with its vast matrix, labyrinthine lingo and confusing corridors? According to Technorati, there are 11 million blogs.

In his book “The Talmud and the Internet,” Jonathan Rosen makes a link comparing the two: “Those who are convinced by mystical symmetry should ponder the irony that the Hebrew word for tractate, or volume of the Talmud, is masechet, which literally means webbing.” Today, we all live in a Diaspora where the Internet allows us to connect in ways we couldn’t until only a decade ago.

But with this ability, the whirring images of tragedy and triumph whiz by so fast it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s false, when the standard of text has gone from “All the News That’s Fit To Print” to “It’s So, If You Blog It So.”

Everywhere I look we’re all armed, holstered and loaded, ready to point and shoot and then upload (no need to reload, digitization has rendered that obsolete.) We’re all members of the media now.

Faster than a popping paparazzi bulb, the first frames beamed into the blogo-sphere portraying London’s tube terrorist bombings were taken by amateur photographer Adam Stacey. But while Adam was probably good-willed, there are far too many who aren’t. Swimming in this vast sea of information where slime is everywhere, can make a person want to shower after logging off.

With all of us talking at the same time, with such a tidal wave of information transmission and dissemination, what will be the effect on our ability to communicate?

Perhaps we should take a step back and consider Johannes Gutenberg. The kind of text revolution he spurred by facilitating scientific publishing, not to mention Gutenberg Bibles, due to his movable type, accelerated a change across the known world that left the Medieval period on a dusty shelf and ushered in the Renaissance and discovery of a whole new world. Similarly, we are on a major cusp of new advances and breakthroughs.

In “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman describes a world where a combination of undersea broadband cables and inexpensive computers have collided, creating a world in which “we are now connecting all the knowledge centers on the planet together into a single global network, which — if politics and terrorism do not get in the way — could usher in an amazing era of prosperity and innovation.”

Where does God fit into all of this? While still desperately searching for something higher, maybe the irony is we are all just part of God’s blog.

ABE NOVICK

Senior vice president

Eisner Communications

Baltimore.

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