On Narratives and Networks.

Author: Richard Johnson, Head of Biblical Studies and Library Supervisor, Redcliffe College.


Rebecca West once wrote about a group of women that she met in the former Yugoslavia:
None of these women could read. When a boy passed by carrying an advertisement of Batya’s shoes they had to ask a man they knew to read it for them. They did not suffer any great deprivation thereby. Any writer worth his salt knows that only a small proportion of literature does more than partly compensate people for the damage they have suffered by learning to read. (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 1993 [1st pub 1942], p329)
I sometimes wonder whether a future novelist might one day write something similar about the internet: ‘Only a small proportion of the internet does more than partly compensate people for the damage they have suffered by learning to use it.’ However, for many of us the internet has become an inescapable part of life. Undoubtedly, like a garden spade, there are certain things that it can do better than anything else. For example, if I wanted to know the average life expectancy of left-handed men in Norway, or the latest estimate for how many unreached people groups there are in Turkmenistan (always assuming that we could agree on what these words actually meant) I would not think of looking anywhere other than the internet. In other words, it’s extremely good for basic information (however meaningless or irrelevant 99% of that information is).

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