Common Threads

Common Threads – Ties that Bind
Epiphany 43

My first experience with FaceBook was due to a position I had which involved people of the ages 16-35. Shortly after it was opening to the public, All of the young adults with whom I interacted in my career seemed to have FaceBook pages. If I wanted to maintain credibility, I needed one as well. Shortly After setting up my page, I started to get friend requests. One friend continually showed up and, once a week or so, would post a friendly nondescript greeting of sorts. Not knowing this person, I became a bit leery and eventually stopped using FaceBook. As it happened, I later learned that, as one of the first “public” users, that friend was none other than the founder of FaceBook, Marc Zuckerberg. Knowing the importance of connections which had led him to starting his Internet sensation, he was simply keeping in touch with those first general users.

Connections were also important to the scientists who worked on experiments at CERN, the Geneva, Switzerland laboratory dedicated to the study of large particle physics. CERN is an acronym which stands for Council European for Nuclear Research. Sitting on the borders of France and Switzerland, it was founded in 1952 for the express purpose of understanding the nuclei of the atom. Now often know as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics due to its expanding fields of research, CERN hosts many scientists from all over the globe. They arrive at CERN to participate in experiments and often, after they return to their home countries, are still evaluating and developing their research. Communication between the scientists and CERN was paramount and often inhibited by available means of communication.

In the countries of England, France, and the United States of America, electronic computers became of great interest and the US Department of Defense began awarding contracts to companies to develop packet networking, a means by which computers could communicate with each other. By the late 1960’s a system had been developed where different networks of computers could communicate with each other. This internet working system would become known as the Internet. In 1982 Internet protocols were developed and by the late 1980’s commercial internet service providers began advertising for customers.

Answering a need for connections between the scientists at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee had a bright idea. A software engineer from the United Kingdom, Tim knew all too well the difficulties faced by the affiliated scientists at CERN. He also knew the potential of the number of computers connected via the Internet. In 1990 he offered a proposal to his bosses at CERN that outlines a specific plan to make the Internet available and useful to people in general. His proposal was rejected but Berners-Lee believed in his idea and persevered. Within a year his World Wide Web became the first web page editor. By 1991 the public beyond the walls of CERN became members of the World Wide Web community. In two years CERN announced the World Wide Web technology would be available to anyone, free of charge.

Today the three technologies Tim Berners-Lee developed to be the core foundation of the Web still exist. We are all connected through the publishing format known as HyperText Markup Language or HTML which allows us to create documents and include links to other resources, articles, and documents. Just as we need to know a house number when attending a function at someone’s house, items on the Web needed an address. Berners-Lee developed a URI or Uniform Resource Identifier which is specific to each particular item on the web. Additionally, items are retrieved via the HyperText Transfer Protocol or HTTP.

In a world where peace seems like an impossible pipe dream, the World Wide Web and the World Wide Web Consortium are proving that connectedness can lead to productive and cohesive partnerships. Known as W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium was another epiphany of Tim Berkers-Lee. It acts as a meeting place for standards and guidelines regarding the Web. While only twenty-five percent of the world’s population currently uses the World Wide Web, the four billion smart phones currently in use enabled to access it will surely increase its functional ability and effectiveness.

The advantages and effects of the connectivity of the Internet are debated daily in most countries on the planet. William Ellery Channing believed in the power of being connected. “Others are affected by what I am, and say, and do. So that a single act of mine may spread and spread in widening circles, through a nation or humanity. Through my vice I intensify the taint of vice throughout the universe. Through my misery I make multitudes sad. On the other hand, every development of my virtue makes me an ampler blessing to my race. Every new truth that I gain makes me a brighter light to humanity.”

The positive effects of the World Wide Web have enabled doctors to cure people half way around the world. News reports are seen by millions within seconds of events happening. A soldier stationed in a way zone can watch the birth of his child. Unfortunately, the vices Channing mentioned are also occurring via the Web. Bullying has become the popular comment language for teenagers. It is also coupled with violence and has become a way for dissident groups to garner attention.

We should not, however, mistake the ability to publish something on the World Wide Web as acceptance nor power. Those who belittle or behead publicly have resorted to the Web because their cause has no real power to exist on good merit. The connectivity of the Web does offer a chance for peace, a chance for all parties to be recognized, a chance for improvement, respect, and an overall improvement in the basic human condition of all mankind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “The purpose of life seems to be to acquaint a man with himself and whatever science or art or course of action he engages in reacts upon and illuminates the recesses of his own mind. Thus friends seem to be only mirrors to draw out and explain to us ourselves; and that which draws us nearer our fellow man, is, that the deep Heart in one, answers the deep Heart in another, — that we find we have (a common Nature) — one life which runs through all individuals, and which is indeed Divine.”

In the forty-three epiphanies we have discussed this Epiphany season, none benefitted only one person or even just one culture or country. Each invention or concept was a new approach which led to even greater events or accomplishments. The word epiphany comes from the Greek “epiphaneia” meaning an experience of sudden or striking realization. Most of the epiphanies we have discussed were the result of several attempts, failures turned into successes. Imprisoned for what was supposed to be the rest of his life, Nelson Mandela was released and became the president of his country. When asked how this could have happened, he explained his own epiphany of freedom: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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