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Vico and the course of Web 2.0 history

6 April 2009

VicoIn today’s post*, we hear from philosopher and cultural theorist Giambattista Vico. Despite living in the late seventeenth – early eighteenth century (1668 – 1744), Vico has definite views on how we experience each new social media tool.

[Editor’s note: The interviewee says ‘man’ but is referring to both human genders. There were no female people in Europe then, at least in philosophical circles.]

Thank you so much Signor Vico for speaking to Learning and e-learning today.

Prego, my pleasure.

Have you caught up with the Web 2.0 phenomenon?

Si, like any institution, it fits my idea of ricorsi.

This is your 3-stage model of historical cycles?

Four stages, actually: metaphor, metonymy, synedoche, irony.

Oh, I have seen them (Bonnycastle 1996) described as:

1. falling in love
2. searching for understanding
3. integrating and idealising
4. liberalism and disillusionment

Mmm, I prefer as I originally wrote it

1. The age of the gods
2. The age of the heroes
3. The age of men

and then 4. the ricorso, recycling. As in all civil institutions, so with the Internet: man passes through each of these periods, and the rules and society change with him.

How do you mean?

Well, review the recent past of the Web 2.0 and its users and developers:

First, the mystic theology of the web: lost in an enormous new world, the Internet citizen goes around naming things and learning the names of things. Web 2.0 technologies often start with just a name, and an idea – perpetually in beta – which excites each one with its possibilities. Certain developers are held in great esteem, and exert tremendous power on the developmental direction of the institution.

Secondly, the time of civil equity. The Internet citizen tries to connect things with their neighbours in time and space. This is the phase of mash-up, where the space is negotiated between all people through borrowing ideas, sharing code openly, broadcasting developments.

Thirdly, the time of natural equity, in which the Internet citizen for his own particular good (without understanding that it is the same for all), is led to command universal laws, naturally desiring these laws to bend benignly to the least details of matters calling for equal utility. This is the phase of the personal web and the semantic web, where a combination of customisation and communal development shapes the Internet to each individual, more and more perfectly.

We’re not there yet?

No, we are still in the happy state of gaining mastery over the technology, and all classes of people – the nobles, the plebs, and the priests – can hope to come together in fixing the workings of the Internet laws.

But it’s just so hard to know where to direct your energies in Web 2.0.

Si, but remember, a clear idea is a finished idea – clarity is the vice of human reason, rather than its virtue.

Enjoy this time of creative confusion  while you can, for I prophesy that some will try to make the Internet their own instrument of power, and, if it is allowed to fall into the anarchy of private interests, then the Internet citizens will live like wild beasts in a deep solitude of spirit, scarcely any two being able to agree since each follows his own pleasure or caprice.

I have seen this cycle of growth, maturity and decline again and again, over the last 330 years. All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again – as my new friend Nietzsche puts it.

Well, thank you very much, Giambattista Vico, do keep letting us tweeps know your thoughts.

GV: But of corso.

[Thanks to Underpuppy on Flickr for this photo of Vico’s current location in Naples.]

* As a publishing person, I love to see people exploiting a format innovatively. The online newsletter Creative Characters regularly interviews notable people from the type design world, and for their 1 April 2009 issue last week published their interview with the long-dead Eric Gill.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. pennyjw permalink*
    16 April 2009 9:52 pm

    Will also read entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    Also like Vico’s Orations on Paideia and Humanitas for his views on how learning makes the human human.

  2. katetracy permalink
    19 April 2009 10:57 am

    I love this – thanks for the link. Will be using it at school.

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