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Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research

Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research published on

Authored by National Security Administration

One of the most famous stories about libraries tells of the tenth century Grand Vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem lsmael who, “in order not to part with his collection of 17,000 volumes when traveling, had them carried by a caravan of 400 camels trained to walk in alphabetical order. “However charming this tale may be, the actual event upon which it is based is subtly different. According to the original manuscript, now in the British Museum, the great scholar and literary patron Sahib lsma’il b. ‘Abbad so loved his books that he excused himself from an invitation by King Nuh II to become his prime minister at least in part on the grounds that four hundred camels would be required for the transport of his library alone.

A 21st Century version of the story might feature any number of portable electronic devices-a laptop, a PDA, or even a mobile phone-designed to overcome this difficulty. Today, 1000 years later, the Persian scholar/statesman would have to find a new excuse for declining the job offer. Abdul Kassem lsmael (aka Sahib lsma’il b. ‘Abbad) would be hard pressed to explain why he couldn’t just find what he needed on the Internet. The message seems to be that ‘books are passe, replaced by ones and zeroes, the real world replaced by a virtual one, knowledge supplanted by information at best and chaotic data at worst. Have we shrunk the world or expanded it? Or have we in some way replaced it?

Untangling the Web for 2007 is the twelfth edition of a book that started as a small handout. After more than a decade of researching, reading about, using, and trying to understand the Internet, I have come to accept that it is indeed a Sisyphean task. Sometimes I feel that all I can do is to push the rock up to the top of that virtual hill, then stand back and watch as it rolls down again. The Internet-in all its glory of information and misinformation-is for all practical purposes limitless, which of course means we can never know it all, see it all, understand it all, or even imagine all it is and will be. The more we know about the Internet, the more acute is our awareness of what we do not know. The Internet emphasizes the depth of our ignorance because “our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.”My hope is that Untangling the Web will add to our knowledge of the Internet and the world while recognizing that the rock will always roll back down the hill at the end of the day.

I will end this beginning with another story and a word of warning. “Tion, Uqbar,
Orbis Tertius” describes the discovery of an encyclopedia of an unknown planet. This unreal world is the creation of a secret society of scientists, and gradually, the imaginary world of Tlon replaces and obliterates the real world. Substitute “the Internet” for Tlon and listen. Does this sound familiar?

Publication Date:
Jan 14 2014
1494999455 / 9781494999452
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
8.5″ x 11″
Black and White
Related Categories:
Technology & Engineering / Mobile & Wireless Communications


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