The central thesis of British classicist Eric A. Havelock was that the whole of Western thought underwent a profound shift when its primary mode of contemplation evolved from oral to literate. The implication being that new ideas are not merely fueled by inspired minds, that in fact the underlying technology used to express and explore them also play a significant role.
Havelock's focus was on the hand written literacy of the early Greeks; that the mental resources freed by not needing to remember large volumes of words can be utilised for other endeavours. Yet we can extend his premise to other technological landmarks in human history. The invention of the printing press in around 1440 dramatically shaped the course of human thought by vastly improving the accessibility of ideas, especially religious ones to begin with, that were previously monopolised by an elite few. It may seem impossible to imagine a world without the written and printed word and perhaps that is symptomatic of how entwined our collective minds have now become with these technologies. Can we really speak of our accumulated cultural and philosophical achievements as existing, in their entirity, in human minds?
So what of the Internet? What effect is that having on human thought? Still only a mere 15 years old, it has generated more information to a greater audience than the sum of all the technologies that precede it. I was recently at my Grand Father's 80th birthday party, it was quite an occasion, 36 members of the family attended, many of whom had traveled hundreds of miles. A very entertaining and touching speech was given by the eldest son, part of which included, "you have lived through many recessions and booms, a World War, men walking on the moon, the arrival of the Internet ..." There you have it, the interconnection of computing devices is considered worthy alongside some of the most notable events in human history -- and it's only just been born.
- According to Kevin Kelly of the New York Times, "the entire works of humankind, from the beginning of recorded history, in all languages" would amount to 50 petabytes (1015 bytes) of data.
- In 1993, total Internet traffic amounted to approx. 100 TB for the year. As of June 2008[update], Cisco Systems estimated Internet traffic at 160 TB/s (which assuming to be constant comes to 5 zettabytes (1021) for the year).
- The current world population is estimated to be 6,710,029,070 of which 1,596,270,108 are internet users, that's approximately one sixth.
- Wikipedia has 1.74 billion words in 9.25 million articles in approximately 250 languages.
- The photo sharing site Flickr hosts over 3 billion photos, amounting to some 3 million new photos added per day.
- Youtube offers around 150 million user-contributed videos.