I was talking with an old friend about lots of things including the Internet and the conversation wandered somehow to the Old Testament. She asked “Maybe the Net is like the tower of Babel?” It’s not that strained an analogy; what we’re trying to build does partake of large-scale hubris. “But that story had an unhappy ending” I replied. And indeed, were a vengeful hand, divine or otherwise, to intervene, to confuse our language so we could not understand each other, that would be disastrous at the scale of Babel. I don’t think we’re trying to restore the pre-Tower state though: Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. Trying just to lower conversational friction and barriers to entry for everyone in the world, that’s hubris enough.



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From: Ben Rockwood (Oct 19 2007, at 13:37)

Fascinating concept. Not sure I agree one way or another, but great idea to chew on.

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From: David Megginson (Oct 19 2007, at 13:56)

If you're talking about the Tower of Babel, don't forget the sequel in chapter 2 of Acts, where everyone can understand each-other again (though some blame it on the wine):

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts%202:1-13;&version=9;

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From: JS Hedegard (Oct 19 2007, at 22:38)

The Internet is the latest in a long string of communication tools. It permits more people to experience the differences and similarites across our species than prior tools, but that's about it (sorry about that, techies). How we use this communication tool, or any other, to unite us or divide us is still basically an individual choice.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Net. But let's place the power to unite or divide where it belongs, and that's with each of us.

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From: len (Oct 20 2007, at 09:17)

There is another take on that story.

The Divine was merciful not vengeful. The king thought to build a tower to become the sole intercessor to the divine. By destroying the tower, the divine destroyed the imposter and by fracturing the languages, scattered both ambition and innovation to the ends of the earth. There and then all peoples could pray in their own tongue and think their own thoughts and create their own stairways to heaven.

Hubris is a deadly sin because it presupposes one answer is enough.

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From: Steven Brewer (Oct 20 2007, at 09:49)

Ah! But we do have a common language: it's Esperanto! Recently, I saw this freakish article that seems to actually liken Esperanto to Babel. (Although I think the article is actually an attempt to smear George Soros by reminding people that he, at one time, actually *spoke* Esperanto -- and isn't that suspicious and kooky! :-) I actually do speak Esperanto and enjoy pointing out to people that it actually works, ie, it is an easy to learn second language that allows people with different native languages to communicate on a level playing field. I don't seem to have been smited (or is it smitten?) for defying the will of a supreme being yet!

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From: Peter William Lount (Oct 20 2007, at 11:32)

I'm not sure how the Tower of Babel relates at all to the Internet. Your posting is incomplete as you just say there might be a correlation but you don't say anything about what you think the correlation is.

Besides the Babel story very silly and not very realistic (typical of Bible stories) in that it ignores how people communicate without being able to speak the same language.

What is it that you are trying to build that you classify as having hubris?

Maybe the hubris you speak of is in your assumption that everyone wants whatever it is that you are trying to build? A one solution fits all types of situations won't work. Sorry about that, reality is a harsh mistress.

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