This article was originally written as a guest post for I Dig Culture, an international media channel that explores human cultural diversity and exchange. You can view the full article here. 

The year 2013 marked the twentieth that W3 Internet server technology has been freely available to the public. [1] Fittingly, I know that thanks to my Facebook news feed.

That this technology enables the efficient transmission of an increasingly rich web of information might be deemed nothing short of miraculous, but has our behavior caught up to its possibilities? Are we, as one meme so aptly expresses, using our ability to access the knowledge of humanity at our fingertips simply to argue with strangers and watch cat videos? We could be taking advantage of the Web to erect a marketplace of ideas on a scale that would make John Stuart Mill dance in his grave, but are we actually taking the time to avail ourselves of the gold inside this global treasure chest?

Grumpy-Cat

Grumpy Cat is angry because you could be teaching yourself solid state physics right now.

Whatever we might be using the Internet for, a lot of us are using it, and we’re certainly using it a lot. According to statistics published by the International Telecommunications Union and Royal Pingdom.com, in the last year the world had 2.7 billion Internet users, or 750 million households (41% of the world) [2] looking at about 630 million web sites. The number of Tumblr blogs reached nearly 90 million, and our old friend WordPress claimed almost 60 million sites worldwide. Reddit had 37 billion pageviews last year—that’s more than five pageviews per member of this planet—and Facebook supported about 5 petabytes—yeah, that’s a prefix we haven’t heard much of yet—of photo content a month and 2 billion “Likes” per day. This wealth of constantly updated information is hardly limited to the English-speaking world. The most active country on Facebook is reportedly Brazil, with more than 85,000 monthly posts-by-page, and Sina Weibo, mainland China’s Twitter mimic, saw a rate of more than 720,000 posts a minute during the transition from 2012 to 2013 [3].

With all that content and activity, we must certainly be learning from each other, right? Not necessarily. In fact, the Internet’s expansive educational landscape continues to be rent by linguistic, cultural, and political barriers that prevent the free flow of information in the directions we need it most. Even if we limit our discussion to the 35% of the world’s population estimated to use the Internet as of 2011 [4], a limitation that is itself admittedly problematic because a lot of culture—traditions, values, linguistic habits–is locked up in groups that may not have access to the Web, we can’t earnestly assert that the Internet is the orgy of promiscuously conjugating memes that we might hope it to be…

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