Thursday, 7 June 2012

Cnut and the internet flood.

In a previous post (which I've added to the site, and was coincidentally the only post I'd made this year before my creativity resolution) I wrote the following:

The internet, portable computing, and constant connectivity are increasingly ubiquitous. Denying that is like Cnut trying to hold back the tide.
But perhaps that wasn't entirely fair, either to Cnut or those internet deniers. First of all, it seems that Cnut's 'attempt' to hold back the tide may (I stress may) have been an act of piety rather than arrogance. But more importantly, is it truly appropriate to use the story as a smilie or metaphor for something which we might consider inevitable?

Let's recap. Cnut reputedly placed his throne on the shoreline as the tide was coming in and commanded it to turn back. Naturally, he failed. But what if, instead of attempting to command the tide, he had build a sea wall to contain the tide?


Then again, perhaps Cnut could have gone surfboarding. Or built a hydro-electric plant. (Weston-super-Mare, by the way, is said to have the second highest tidal range in the world, and the photograph doesn't show the highest part of the wall.)

The point I'm trying to get across is that while the story of Cnut is commonly used as a metaphor for the futility of trying to hold back progress (or nature, and so on), there would still be any number of things he could have done instead, all of which would have responded to the incoming tide in different, but more successful ways. Even if he could not command the tide, he could perhaps have controlled it, or prevented it from flooding a nearby town, or harnessed its energy.

The same goes for the internet and technology. I still fundamentally believe that trying to deny, prevent, or ignore the digital age is futile and even irresponsible. It is simply the world that we are living in. But that does not mean we should just submit to some imagined inevitability. The tide may be coming in, but that does not necessarily mean that we must resign ourselves to being swept up by the tide and pulled under. We could also learn to swim.


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