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Aaron Belz


The Rules Have Stayed the Same

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the printing press changed the world. With the Internet, we are on the verge of another such change as we head into the twenty-first.

Five hundred years ago, the automated reproduction of text improved the speed and accuracy with which religious thought, political and social ideas, literature, and news propagated through the civilized world. Not only did the printing press represent greater efficiencies, but it made entirely new forms of literature and thought possible—the novel, for example, was all but impossible before this advance. The spread of Protestantism required the printing press; how else could every household own a copy of the Bible in its own language?

Today we brace for a similar revolution, this time facilitated not by platens, paper, and type but by a network of wires that stretches around the world, through which computers relay information to one another. The Internet represents a quantum leap in speed and efficiency over its older sibling, the printing press, and we must suppose it will change not only the way media are distributed but the shape of human thought itself.

I believe the strongest clues to the way this will actually take place lie in the foundation of the Internet: its protocol. Like civil laws that guide us in our social and political life, and like moral principles that inform our daily decisions, the information-sharing protocols of the Internet will gird our civilization with order.

MEANING AND ORDER IN INFORMATION

Critics love to use the phrase, the test of time. If a work of literature, for instance, withstands this test, it must have some merit. What is the basis for this merit? There are really two intrinsic bases: the truth of that which is said, and the skill with which it is said. As Quintillian said, rhetoric requires "a good man speaking well."

These bases are inside the writing itself, but there are also factors outside the text: the binding, the cover, the numbered pages, the ...

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