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Protocols & Society: HTTP & HTML

museJun 9, 2018, 9:30:23 PM
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Thank you to @anaarkei for the header image, consider checking out his page, he will make you images if you give him tokens :). Each post in this series will feature a special image designed by him that is a graphical representation of the protocol in discussion.

This is the first blog post in a series that I intend to write on the unseen effect upon our lives which are caused by various Internet Protocols and Algorithms, including Social Networks. It is something like a sequel to my previous blog post Self-Similarity & Society, but more detailed and focused on specific protocols and their effects.

HTTP & HTML

HTML is an acronym for Hyper-Text Markup Language. HTML is the language with which all webpages are primarily written. HTML is a language that is understood by all browsers, whether more safe browsers like Brave Browser, Tor Browser, Un-Googled Chromium, relatively safe browsers like Firefox, or extreme privacy breaching browsers like Google Chrome/Chromium, they all understand HTML( Google Chrome/Chromium still has the best developer tools 😞).

HTTP is an acronym for Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol. HTML is the "markup language" which HTML documents use. You can think of an HTML document as a noun, and HTTP as the verb, the action of transferring an HTML document(HTTP is actually a noun, but its a noun that describes the action of transferring a document, like "running" is the noun form of "run")[1]. An HTML document is a document containing code that is read by browsers, HTTP is the protocol that is used for sending this code. 

I said that HTML is a language, however it is more than just a language. HTML is a new way of thinking about language, space, time, relationships and society. Books are bound by two-dimensional space. Normal text in a book is written left to right(in English), top to bottom, along two dimension planes(pages). But hyper-text breaks with this by making links easily navigable between "pages", and thus is no longer "two-dimensional". HTML is not linear.

In Mathematics, the prefix hyper is used to describe high-dimensional spaces, that is, not just zero-dimensional(dots), one-dimensional(lines), two-dimensional(planes) and three-dimensional(cuboids), but as many dimensions as you can imagine(and many dimensions you can never imagine).

While traditional text is two-dimensional, HTML is hyper-dimensional. HTML then, also follows more closely the physical structure of the human brain, which is composed of neurons linked together. The human brain is not linear, but goes from place to place. Every thought is able to drift into another thought. Hyper-text allows for the process of reading and learning to better suit the needs and desires of specific individuals than regular 2d text. Translation can happen automatically, or you might get customized text based on your browser settings. It allows the user experience to be dynamic and highly customizable. But most importantly, HTML contains links. Links are what makes HTML, and the Internet as a whole, dynamic and hyper-dimensional.

I would like to soften these statements a little however. The advantages and the radical break with the past are probably sometimes overstated. In reality, even the practice of indexing and cross-referencing both in and between various two-dimensional texts is equivalent to hyper-text, because as soon as you make a reference outside the text, you are no longer reading/writing in a purely linear fashion. When reading a two-dimensional text you can always pause and look up a definition in a dictionary or read another book before you finished a first. All this means that the line between text and hyper-text is not quite so clear cut. HTML however, makes these links really easy to create.

Therefore two-dimensional text is not as restrictive as sometimes it is made out to be and two qualifiers to the advantages of HTML need to be mentioned. Firstly, some have pointed out that the ease of moving from place to place in and across texts(the very idea of Hypertext) causes people to lose concentration. Secondly, because its so easy to create a dynamic experience to give you only what you want to hear, HTML can lead to echo chamber types of environment. Simply put, HTML gives the individual what Oscar Wilde so eloquently says is one of two great tragedies in life: getting exactly what you want[2]. Thus increase in technology, as always, increases ones freedom and power, and with this freedom, also the increased ability to both create and destroy.

Society & HTML/TP


We live in a society

So how does this affect our society in the large scale? Some of this should already be clear. HTML/TP allows for the user experience to become more dynamic and personalized. This affects the way we learn and think as individuals. It's possible that this helps us to think more widely, but it also potentially will result in shallowness. But in this profusion of linking together documents, another effect starts to appear.




When each document has thousands of links to other documents, the world becomes better connected. That is, if we put all the people we connect with on a graph It looks less like a star, and more like a mesh(Mesh Network). In this environment, it becomes easier to connect with others who share our interests, as well as less dependence upon central "gatekeepers". These "gatekeepers" might be political entities, business leaders, or even financial institutions.

However, whenever there is a trend going one way, there always seems to be a trend that opposes it. And every trend has tools that go along with it. In the next blog post in this series, I will discuss the tendency to move back toward more centralized models of operation, despite the fact that the great mesh network, the Internet, enabled by HTML/TP still exists.

Notes

1. Generally, it is said that a verb is a "part of speech that expresses existence, action, or occurrence". This is ok, but is a definition that also may obscures something that seems to be assumed by English speakers: that existence and acting are the same thing, that existence is an action that we all partake in. This is a case of Grammarians making distinctions that most English speakers don't seem to make judging by the fact that English speakers treat existence and action as syntactically similar or even identical. The fact that Grammarians make this distinction at all may be due to the philosophy of academics changing faster than the language which it theorizes.
2. The other is not getting what you want

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