Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Islands in the Stream


When humans began mapping their world, it must have felt infinite. While early mathematicians knew the planet’s size and surface area, the mapmakers most common label was terra incognita.

Was this coastline part of an island or something much, much larger? In a few thousand years, the maps filled in, new lands were discovered, and islands large and small found their rightful place.

The infinite became finite but filled with innumerable details. Simple coastlines became complex fractal shapes—a new kind of infinitude. That was Newton’s world: infinite and fixed.

This is Einstein’s world: finite but continually expanding. Also expanding is the digital universe. In the beginning, it was like a simple world map but is now far more complex than the planet that houses it.

The islands of the Internet, once sites waiting to be discovered and connected, are now transforming into islands of isolation. Whether social media with controlled access or whole nations building barriers to both visitors and locals alike, the numbers of these islands are growing as fast as the Internet itself.

More importantly, like the objects in the physical universe, these isolated islands are rapidly moving away from each other. Not only that, the more isolated they become, the harder it will be to even know they exist.

We may continue to call it The World Wide Web, but a good portion of it will be islands that are isolated, hidden, and inaccessible. It would appear that the digital world is fast slipping back into terra incognita.

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