The Three-Fold Web

Threes have been on my mind lately, largely because I’ve lately been reminded of the problem of “Resolving the Ternary.”

The world is a unity.  That much is a given.  It’s all one thing, this planet revolving and revoluting around the Sun, with a Moon revolving around it. And technically it’s of a unity with the sun, and with the other planets, and all of everything.  But we don’t tend to see it that way.  And right away, especially in the West, we tend to start binarizing it pretty rapidly:

Living and Nonliving.  Vertebrates and Invertebrates. Mammals and Non-Mammals. Primates and non-primates.  People and everything else. Male and Female.  (White and Non-white, for those acutely aware of the problems of racism in America despite our first African-American president). Rich and Poor.  Jedi and Sith. And so on.

Good and Evil.

There’s a tendency on the part of our leaders to want to resolve binaries into unities again.  Hence there used to be talk of a “Permanent Republic Majority” and then briefly of a Democratic death-grip on power until we realized that that was crazy-talk and not at all suited to the reality we live in.  But unities have a tendency to wind up discorporating out into their components and factions again pretty rapidly. They don’t stay unified.

As a result, it’s important to resolve the ternary… in other words, to find the best parts of each side, and help give rise to a third, an inbetween state that is not one or the other, but both and neither.

In the digital teaching community, there’s a tendency to assume that the future is going to be unified behind a tech-oriented agenda.  Likewise, the non-digital community tends to think it will be books, pens, paper, chalk forever.  They often come to philosophical blows over it.

Tonight, though, a student pointed out the obvious Ternary here to me. It’s not enough to teach kids how to use the web.  We also have to teach them how to use books, as well.  We have to teach students how navigate between multiple sources of information — some digital, some paper; some secondary, some primary, some tertiary; some books, some magazines, some weblogs.  We have to teach them to express themselves in multiple modalities: giving up authorship control on wikis, claiming opinions for themselves on blogs, arguing formally in papers, chatting informally in podcasts, reporting impartially in newspapers, creating beauty in graphical displays; and standing up to present what they know in a way that showcases confidence, intelligence and poise.

And that means that I have to think of each student as enmeshed in a Three-Fold Web.

The First Web is the materials that are physically at hand: the books and magazines in the physical classroom, the school library down the hall, the other classrooms in the school, the kids’ library at home. These are the resources the kid has without any electricity at all, and it should include tools like compasses, straight edges, ex-acto knives, pens, paper, markers, paint, brushes, found objects, and more.  Given time, of course, the contents of museums and personal art collections can be consider First Web — but you have to get on a bus or a plane to go see them.  This is the physical realm.

The Second Web is the material on the student’s laptop or cellular phone. We should be encouraging students to build a digital library of short stories, novels, poetry, music, film, historical sources, and images that they can draw on to explain the world around them.  This is their local digital storage, and we should be encouraging kids (within the limits of copyright, I’m saying) to be trading and swapping and expanding this collection all the time.  Every kid should have his or her own personal Library of Alexandria, and should be swiping other people’s Libraries of Alexandria all the time.

The Third Web is the material on the Internet.  The world’s knowledge is great, but it’s not always available.  It’s not always unfiltered.  It’s not always broadband. The kids know this with regard to their Second Web needs already.   It includes the class wiki, and YouTube, and, and more, but it’s less selective than the Library of Alexandria the kid carries in a flashdrive or an SD chip as a Second Web.

So there you are.  A Three-Fold Web, consisting of physical artifacts, local digital storage, and the world’s total Internet holdings.  I think it will be a useful model for kids, because it’s something that they get, intuitively, even if they don’t have a vocabulary for it.  And it seems to resolve the Ternary, which appeals to the Hermeticist in me.


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  1. No, still three. Each of the three you mention have these three attributes of home, school, and public. The concept itself is sociological; I wasn’t qualifying that as an added attribute.

    I think your division of Webs is actually quite helpful; and not only for purposes of explaining to students. For far too long we’ve let the vocabulary get away from us; this three webs concept offers something of a more ‘physical’ expression of what the Web is now.

    – Shelly

    • Ah, ok.

      I like the idea that it’s three webs, and three worlds. The first web at a coffee shop is different than the first web at home. Both are different from First Web at school or work, or at a public library.

      The Second Web may or may not be the same, depending on what device or battery power or current-stream you have. And the Third Web may also be limited by download speed, dial-up vs. modem, or more. But theoretically, both the second and third webs are always present in any location.

  2. Spoken like the 21st century Drui.

    I think you are on to something. But the next phase is just as important — namely, the places where/how the Three Webs intersect at home, at school, and in public.

    Thinking about the sociological Web.

    – Shelly

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