The paradox of enclosure

Two paradoxes for today.

The book is a liberating device which encloses the world of oral speech, setting boundaries, standards, permanent fixtures. The visual page stops the flux of sounds, the book covers in/en-close knowledge, free-flowing variants slowly give way to correct and authorised versions. Folk tales become printed stories, the linguistic drift is arrested by the printed word, the free world of speech gets locked up in numbered, carefully arranged pages, sheets and quires. The book is a dungeon for the spoken word but a springboard for the imagination. By reading we dream, expand our knowledge, become better selves, do things better.

On the written page, we explore the deepest truths about ourselves in biography and the greatest insights about others in history, while at the same time locking those truths and insights with indelible ink.

The World Wide Web is a similar metaphor and carries a related paradox. The word web was chosen by Robert Cailliau in 1990 to describe his vision of the hyperlinked internet because it was an image of connected fibres, an extensive canvas of threads and nodes, like a spider web. You can tell that the architects of the modern internet didn’t think things through since they passed over an important thread in the web metaphor – entrapment. The web is a canvas, but it is a sticky one – once on it, it’s hard to leave. It is freedom, but also, as Sartre would have said, it is viscous, gluey. The web traps and entraps, but it also releases creative forces, starts exciting new conversations and changes things. Like books, it unfastens locked potential by keeping us locked in. The flight of the human mind has to beat the gravity keeping it down.


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