The Internet is our Tower of Babel

“According to the story, a united human race speaking a single language and migrating eastward, comes to the land of Shinar (שִׁנְעָר‎). There they agree to build a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Yahweh, observing their city and tower, confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and scatters them around the world.”


“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth, and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

— Genesis 11:1–9

“[T]he genesis of the Web was the Pentagon; Al Gore didn’t invent the Web, as he claimed; it was an outfit called DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Department of Defense. Its purpose was to create a rapid communication and information conveyance system for the military. It was slightly modified by some researchers who used it to share data quickly with other researchers. Bingo, the World Wide Web was born!”

John McGauly,
The Keene Sentinel

I was about to write a post comparing the internet to the biblical allegory about the Tower of Babel. Then, I came across this thoughtful piece.

It covers the material as I would have, and is quite well written.

I’m glad to know that I am not alone on the subject and since I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel here goes:

“As everyone now realizes — especially those now in their 60s and 70s — the Web, or the Internet, has changed everything and spawned technology and efficiencies that only a decade ago were thought unimaginable. Those who are younger don’t remember a pre-Internet world and even us old-timers are forgetting those days. In the beginning was the Web, we can now say, and then there was light.

The Web is our Aladdin’s Lamp, granting us our wishes that before could not even have been imagined. History will look back and see that the world changed as much in the 30-plus years after the beginning of the Web as it did 4,000 years ago with the development of cultivated crops.

But the Tower of Babel story is the allegory of the Internet, too, and all that it has created. DARPA’s efforts inadvertently began our attempt at the tower that will go to the heavens. Everybody assumes there will be no limits now, that technology and information will now progress at exponential speeds. Eventually, experts and prophets say, it will enable us to know everything, maybe even live forever. Artificial intelligence will progress to merge with human intelligence and away we’ll all go.

But maybe the Bible’s tale of the tower is a warning for today. There always seems to be that pesky old hubris, of Icarus flying too close to the sun. Along with the powerful changes wrought by the Web and its corollary technology, are there not now thousands of new “languages” thrown into our world? And, in some important ways, doesn’t the Web, the Internet, the technology, have some less-than-desirable consequences that we could not foresee?

Are we not more divided among ourselves now? Certainly we are, anyone who pays attention can see that we’re oh-so fractured politically and socially, and isolated from one another. You don’t have to be a Luddite to know that our advances have spawned also what’s known as the dark Web, a world of demons and snakes. Everybody labels what they don’t agree with as fake news, and misinformation flows much faster than truth, whatever truth now means. It’s now apparent the Web is both blessed and cursed.

We’re more uncertain about life, we all seem to speak different languages. It’s a fearful time, and people have a sense of the world careening out of control. It’s an endless tsunami of information, but that’s not knowledge, and in the most ironic of results, actually stunts wisdom. There are those who fear the world is coming to an end, either in a nuclear blast or in some environmental, social and political hell of our own making. We all browse the Web incessantly, check our smartphones constantly, and I’d wager most of us come away from all of it not better informed, but confused, confounded, angry and disoriented; and if not that, then at least half brain-dead from too much seemingly senseless data, opinions, input, factoids, and written and visual dross.

So, perhaps the Tower of Babel story should be of import today. The word “babble,” strangely, does not come from Babel. Babble comes from a form of repeating the baby’s formation of the word “ba,” and means a string of nonsensical sounds. The word Babel comes from a Latin word that means “chaos.”


Is the Internet our society’s Tower of Babel?, by John McGauley