If you think that web is made of hardware, software, networks, and people, forget it. True, but mostly irrelevant. Thinking the web as a mix of human and artificial components is just like saying that an individual is bones, muscles, blood, and nerves. True, again, but surely not enough to explain the complexity of a human being, especially if you consider also the psychological aspects.

An individual is a complex system of systems whose behavior cannot be predicted simply analyzing the way it works. In fact, if a person has some physical or psychological dysfunction, we do not call an engineering, but a doctor. The doctor examines the symptoms, does some tests, formulates some hypothesis, prescribes medicines, and monitors the evolution of disease to verify if an improvement of patient’s conditions is occurring.

The web is not technology, even if it is based on technology. The web is not contents even if without contents it could not exist. The web is not even just people or social networks, even if it is made by and for people. People are a fundamental component of web, of course, but this is not the point. In fact, you cannot say “what the web is” simply describing its components. So, what is the web? Here is my opinion:


What I mean is that the web should be considered a living being, a creature. In fact, if you want to really understand the web, communicate with it, take advantage of its power for some specific objective, you must consider it as a very complex and primitive beast, which you can communicate with but whose language you can only partly understand.

You might be surprised since I used the term “primitive” for something that is usually associated to innovation, but that it is. An animal has a head and a heart. So you can control it, or even kill it. But the web has not a head, or if you prefer, it has million heads. Each individual behind a computer is a head, as well as each community, social network, company, association, practically every aggregation of intelligences. Million interacting collective intelligences which communicate, cooperate, or even fight each other, according to million different purposes, because of million different hearts.

This is exactly the same that happens in our body: million interactions between body parts, organs, and cells, which occurs for million different reasons, every second of our life. Understanding each specific interaction is important, sometimes it is key to cure a disease, but you cannot understand your own complexity just as a sum of all those interactions.

So what? Well, if the web is like a living organism, you cannot understand “what the web is” or “where it is going” simply looking at each single group of interactions, exactly as you cannot say where an individual is going and why simply looking at the physical and mental mechanisms that are activated by the decision to have a walk.

Therefore a web scholar is more similar to Dr. House than Mr. Spock. You cannot focus on a specific implementation like Facebook or Second Life to understand how the system may evolve. You must have a 10,000 feet view, a 360 degrees perspective, a real long term vision, whose foundations are in the story of mankind, in philosophy, sociology, mass psychology, and of course science and technology.

So, next time you are trying to understand which will be the evolution of the web, think to it as a mysterious animal whose behavior has yet to be understood, and think yourself as an ethologist. And remember: the web is not Internet; it is only mostly based on Internet… today.

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