As the British built the Gateway Of India in Bombay and the Victoria monument in Calcutta, so have ARPA, the architects of the internet put in place a testament to mankind’s intellectual development and sophistication which has colonised and dominated information channels in most parts of the world. It is an essential tool in the struggle for self-determination in China, Burma, North Africa and the Middle East, but has also brought a form of cultural imperialism into these previously diverse cultures. The internet and the world wide web were developed by English speakers using a Latin alphabet: even now workarounds are used to handle accented letters and non-standard Latin characters and only last year was support for non-Latin characters baked into the web but it has taken decades and in the meantime, many of the fundamentals of the internet and its culture have been, and remain, Euro-American in flavour and substance. Japan has contributed enormously, but Japanese developers and designers still need Anglophone skills to spread Japan’s bounty outside its own borders.
It’s pleasantly destructive of the mindless clichés about the US that their greatest monument and furthest-reaching contribution to human history is an intellectual one. Long after Reaganomics, Clinton’s illegal wars and GHWB’s internecine election rigging (oh, yes, and his illegal wars) have faded into history, the Internet will stand as a reminder of the vibrancy, innovation and spirit of that great and peculiar empire. And just as we’re about to abandon cliché entirely, we are reminded that the sons of Britain have been instrumental in this victory in the battle of hearts and minds.
Of course, it could be argued that the innovation that constitutes the bulk of the giant upon whose shoulders we stand was the English language. As the US Empire’s legacies have been Internet protocol and the pre-emptive retaliatory strike doctrine, so has Britain’s been concentration camps, wide-area imperialism and the English Language. If it’s true that every empire’s greatest achievement turns into its own undoing, that seems to be the case for the superpowers of the 20th Century. Without the English language, would there have been an internet? I’ll leave you to ponder that because I’m not a sufficiently skilled linguist to know. But what I do know is that English, with its combination of analytic supremacy and easy application to humour and irony, has ruled the world for nearly 400 years, a pliable, powerful tool of ruling establishment and rebel iconoclast alike.