The Web: A “Mystery Greater Than Our Failures”

This post is a secret to everyone! Read more about RSS Club.

I’m feeling reflective.

My long-time friend, co-worker, and boss gifted me a book for Christmas. It’s called American Silence. Author? Sarah Greenough. Subject? The photographs of Robert Adams.

After thumbing through his photographs, what stands out is Adams’ ability to reflect the “inextinguishable beauty” of the elements of the natural world—elements common in our daily lives but poorly appreciated because of overfamiliarity, like sunlight and sky.

One particular chapter starts like this:

In 1990, Robert Adams spoke to a group of about seventy people at the Astoria Public Library, a nearly six hundred-year-old institution in an Oregon town with a reputation as a “gritty meets pretty” place. Located at the mouth of the Columbia River where its fast-flowing, turbulent waters empty into the Pacific, Astoria was at the time economically depressed—its lumbering, fishing, and cannery industries closed or in decline.

The author, Greenough, reports on the content of Adams’ talk that night and ends this way:

Adams closes his talk at the library that evening by speaking of the things that attracted him to Astoria, despite its many problems…he turned his attention to the natural world that defines Astoria and spoke specifically of the Columbia River—the very reason for the town’s existence, the thing that both imperiled and blessed it. “No matter how our society has abused it,” Adams stated, “its flow and curve, here as it passes our town, seem to tell of a mystery greater than our failures.”

I couldn’t help but pause and reflect on that statement—“a mystery grater than our failures.”

And I couldn’t help but think about the web and recast his statement in its context:

No matter how our society has abused it, [the web’s] flow and curve…seem to tell of a mystery greater than our failures.

The essence of the web—universal accessibility to information for everyone—is what both “imperils and blesses” it. That kind of reach undoubtedly tempts us to find a way to monetize every transaction, turning the global “information highway” into an information toll-road. And yet, the ethos imbued into the web from its origins—however buried in trends, monetization strategies, or snake oil—hints at “a mystery greater than our failures”.

What Adams excels at capturing in his photographs—elements common in our daily lives but poorly appreciated because of overfamiliarity—makes the World Wide Web a subject that begs for his photographic story telling and our deliberate reflection.