Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Life, the Universe, and All That Jazz

Somewhere in the western spiral arm of the galaxy (though to be fair, “west” depends entirely on whichever orientation the main axis of your body is in and, more importantly, the direction the majority of your heads are looking) lies a small blue/green planet inhabited by the descendants of an ape-like species. The average individual of this species is quite intelligent, having developed nuclear fission before the amazingly simple digital watch. However, on the whole, the species is mindbogglingly stupid, fighting countless wars over some “God” fellow and letting one man subtly dictate what would become possibly the most important technology for a good many years. This man is known to the people as Douglas Adams.

This technology is the Internet. Although Adams certainly did not invent the Internet, he imagined a system much like it, possibly without knowing so. The Internet is essentially a network of devices that allows information to be transmitted instantaneously across the globe. "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy", Adams' signature book, features something called the “Sub Etha Net.” The Sub Etha Net allowed for information to be transmitted almost instantaneously across the Galaxy. Developed just a few years earlier from the time of writing was a technology known as “ethernet”, which has become the de facto standard for networking computers. The similarities between “Sub Etha Net” and Internet over ethernet are astounding, from naming (from “aether”, the substance once thought to fill space) to concept (instantaneous transmission of information). It is unlikely that Adams was aware of what would become of the Internet, but perhaps the similarities influenced his readers to adapt the technologies and increase the popularity to the level that it has reached.

A major component of the Internet is the search engine. A single computer that will instantaneously look through all the computers on the network and find exactly what you are looking for. From music and movies to math and physics to how to get a date with a tree, there is very little information known to humans that cannot be found on the Internet. Search engines appeared much after "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was written, but may have been inspired by the other fictional device, the device for which the book was named: "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy". The fictional "Guide" was a book-sized device that could display information on any subject, from music and movies to math and physics to how to get a date with a tree, just by asking for it. Again, the similarities are striking. The probability of Adams predicting two very important technologies is very low, and perhaps even less probable is that a major theme in the real Guide was probability.

His influence extends even further throughout time. Forty-two, the arbitrarily chosen Ultimate Answer, is an important number in religion and even Adams' own life, adding to the improbability. Perhaps forty-two truly is the Answer, and humankind just hasn't realized it yet.

I wrote this for a scholarship essay, and I must say I'm quite proud of it. In three high school and two university English courses this is, by far, the best piece of prose I've ever written.

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