In European and near-eastern medieval times, the apex of technology, as it was applied to information storage was the illuminated manuscript. An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials, borders and miniature illustrations. This technology was manufactured initially by the monastic scribes of late antiquity and continued through the middle ages into the early renaissance.
The content was largely of a religious nature and was created by christian scribes, who preserved the “western tradition” as well as islamic scribes in the east. The significance of these works lies in the maintenance of an unbroken thread of literacy. Had it not been for these scribes, the entire literature of Greece and Rome would have perished in Europe. The very existence of illuminated manuscripts as an information storage system of ancient documents may have been largely responsible for their preservation in an era when barbarian hordes had overrun continental Europe and ruling classes were no longer literate.
Fast forward to 1957. In response to Sputnik, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was born. ARPA was the U.S. government's research agency for all space and strategic missile research. After the inception of NASA in 1958, ARPA moved away from aeronautics and focused mainly on computer science and information processing. One of ARPA's goals was to connect mainframe computers at different universities around the country so that they would be able to communicate using a common language and a common protocol. Thus the ARPAnet… the world's first multiple-site computer network… was created in 1969.
This prototype network was to exponentially grow and evolve into our contemporary world wide web. With the recent development of cloud computing, the internet has become a globally accessed information storage and retrieval system.
Much like the illuminated manuscript of the dark ages, the raw data or text of the internet is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as animated illustrations, flash, video and of course the work-horse of the internet… hypertext. All of the afore mentioned is displayed on a luminous screen, which draws our attention like moths before a flame. Luminous light of a computer screen (or its bastard relative, TV) is more intrusive to the domesticated primate’s nervous system than the reflected light of printed media (books and newspapers). This luminosity serves and intensifies the same aesthetic purpose of the illuminations of medieval texts.
The outward structure, that is to say the three-dimensional material existence that was the network of monasteries of the dark ages, although vastly different, served the same basic function as our current info-net. Namely… technological manufacture, infrastructure and delivery. Medieval scribes and modern IT techs. Hand written and illustrated volumes and computer databases. The intent of these (indeed any) information storage systems is the preservation and transmission of pertinent information and knowledge.
Now… back to the work-horse of the internet… hypertext. Hypertext, the text displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately access, is the underlying concept defining the structure of the World Wide Web. Having been utilized by most of earth’s citizenry for the last twenty three years, it is now a well understood and intuitive means to instantly share references, additional information and associated topics and/or sources found (located) elsewhere within the network. This simple yet powerful function allows users to explore remote locations on the net that are identified as pertinent to the current data-stream being examined.
The artful use of hyperlinks is a very sophisticated and synchronistic enhancement to any information stream. Linkage to a specific word carries subtle connotations that not only accentuate the topic, but also transports the user to another local. In this manner, hyperlinks have become the equivalent of the medieval “flying carpet” of Islamic myth. The user, upon selecting the magic link is instantly transported to the intended new location, where the adventure continues… or a new adventure begins.
Thus a user may begin a query on a specific topic and by virtue of a series of hyperlink transports, find him or her self delivered to a strange and wonderful place, worlds away from the original topic. This transport is indeed magical, as it can take on deeper, more esoteric meaning and assume characteristics of synchronicity. The concept of synchronicity or meaningful coincidence transforms our network into a global instrument of insight and intuition... an intelligence increase engine.
The internet is arguably one of humanity's most ingenious and ambitious creations to date. It is nothing less than a vast working model of global consciousness. Each human with the means to connect to the web becomes, in a sense, a single, autonomous neuron in the mind of Gaia. Given the incredible potential each individual earthling brings to this system, the creative possibilities for our global consciousness are seemingly infinite. As this global nerve-net becomes more complex and sophisticated, imagine the possibilities.
It is, of course, quite possible that as humanity utilizes this technology more deeply and more meaningfully… as a “critical mass” of intelligence increase lights up our planet with understanding… it is quite possible that we are co-creating a planetary intelligence… a planetary sentience. This might be the purpose for the four extra-terrestrial circuits identified in Timothy Leary’s eight-brain model. This might also be a benign manifestation of singularity, by means of intelligence amplification (IA), as prophesized by Vernor Vinge. This might be the natural evolution of Gaia-Mind in concert with Gaia’s domesticated primates and their AI (artificial intelligence, aka: the world wide web).
Every time our ability to access information and to communicate it to other humans is improved, we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence. As humans are tool builders by nature, our technology or artifacts become a mechanism of evolution. This Earth/Human alliance can be the logical, the practical, necessarily perfect “next step” in Earth Evolution. Vernor Vinge’s post-human era becomes the age of global sentience… the era of Gaia.
At this momentous point, Earth assumes the roll of a great Illuminated manuscript… with all of humanity writing the content. Our planetary future, this “greatest story ever told” is ours to write. Gaia transforms into an illuminated planet. The Earth/Human alliance assumes an expanded role as a global sentient being. At this point… the meaning of life becomes a far different philosophical question. Life on Earth and beyond will become very interesting indeed.