As the hours started to add up on this project, I started asking myself why it felt worth it. The answer: connectivity.
Connectivity is what makes it worthwhile to spend Tuesday evenings at a place like Cambridge Hackspace: the promise of linking things: devices to the Internet, blinking lights to the the Cloud, text responses to Web inputs, and so on.
That's what's exciting about the Internet, and hypertext, and smartphones... and the Internet of Things, over-hyped as that phrase is.
The connectivity is what pulls me in.
Connectedness, after all, powered the Web, and Web 2.0. Now it feels kind of used, gamed by Facebook, by Russian hackers, by scheming, VC-funded startups... That doesn't mean it's not valuable, or appealing.
Think about hypertext, which can be defined simply as text that contains links to other texts, a concept that goes back to the mid-1960s. ("hypermedia" is a variation: hypertext that includes graphics, video and sound.)
Neither -- hypertext nor hypermedia -- was easy to warm up to before hyperlinking hit the cultural jackpot in the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web caught fire. Before the Web, hypertext sounded interesting theoretically. Reading actual hypertext projects, on the other hand, was inevitably more trouble than they were worth.
Still, hypertext had its fans. In the 1970s, Roland Barthes was proposing a model in which text composed of blocks of words or images could be linked electronically by multiple paths in a open-ended perpetually unfinished textuality: "a galaxy of signifiers." Michel Foucault was on to the same idea with his "network of references."
Teilhard de Chardin, the French theologian and paleontologist, got positively theological about connectivity. In the 1940s and '50s he was writing about how mankind was evolving into a super network of human minds, knitted together into a global consciousness. Kind of like the Internet, when you think about it.
Teilhard de Chardin
de Chardin saw the earth as an evolving globe, increasingly clothing itself with a brain. In de Chardin's vision, everything is connected in a sacred web of divine life. As humans weave themselves together into neural nets, a global consciousness will emerge.
This is why de Chardin has been embraced as a theologian for the Web by Internet/media thinkers like John Perry Barlow and Marshall McLuhan. And why if you want to push hyperlinking to the mystical max, de Chardin is probably your guy.