I always used to think it odd when Dave Humphrey would talk about honouring the web. Though I often used the idea of doing justice in similar ways, I could not understand how the web warranted this sort of concern from me, but I am coming to realize more and more that his phrase is apt as a description of how we need to approach the web.
It is the nature of the web, as I have argued previously, to encourage currency and speed, yet to read and write the web in this way is to read and write it only superficially, to ignore the ways that web might be honoured. One aspect of honouring the web for me is actually taking the time to read what I discover there, resisting the urge to read everything poorly, and encouraging the discipline of reading a few things well. Rather than simply scanning the results of a Google search or an email alert or a blog reader and recognize bits of information, it is taking the time to read well those things of interest that I discover as I scan those results. Yet, unless I do take this time, I fail to really honour what has been written there, fail to do justice to what the web is capable of offering me. In other words, I fail to honour the web.
Let me offer a few examples of the things that I have found just in the last few weeks, things that rewarded the time that I spent to read and reflect on them:
Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”
Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, “Werner Herzog in Discussion with Errol Morris”
Lev Manovich, “Database as a Symbolic Form”
Geoffrey Sirc, “Box-Logic”
Bernard Stiegler, “Take Care”
I have written on some of these and will likely write on others. There are still others that I am currently reading as I find the time. It would have been easy for me to skim these things, register their bare existence, and keep looking for the many other things that the web might offer to my interest. Every moment that I spent reading and reflecting on these particular texts was a moment that the web was producing others that may well pass me by, some that might even be of use to me. The temptation is strong, at least for me, to read as quickly as I can, so that I will miss as little as possible, despite the obvious fact that reading in this superficial way will not allow me really to engage with the texts that I have found, will prevent me from really honouring them.
In order to honour the web, therefore, I need to relinquish the idea that I can read it comprehensively, even in the most superficial way, even in the narrowest field. I have to admit that this medium, or this conglomerate of media, will always write more than I can read. I have to recognize that reading the web well does not involve reading all of it, or even reading all of it that might be interesting to me. I have to accept that much of it will pass me by as a necessary cost of the time that I will take to read some of it well. In other words, reading the web well, honouring the web, is predicated on the recognition that I cannot master the web. The web makes apparent, what was always true in any case, that I cannot master knowledge. It presents me with a choice: either to continue chasing an illusory mastery that will drive me to poor and superficial reading and writing, or to accept the fact that I do not master the web, that I only cope with it, and that my proper attitude to it is to honour it by reading and writing it as well as I can.