Civilisation and its disconnects

Robin Hunt (CIBER, School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College London, London, UK)

Aslib Proceedings

ISSN: 0001-253X

Publication date: 19 September 2008



This paper aims to explore some initial and necessarily broad ideas about the effects of the world wide web on our methods of understanding and trusting, online and off.


The paper considers the idea of trust via some of the revolutionary meanings inherent in the world wide web at its public conception in 1994, and some of its different meanings now. It does so in the context of the collaborative reader‐writer Web2.0 (of today), and also through a brief exploration of our relationship to the grand narratives (and some histories) of the post‐war West. It uses a variety of formal approaches taken from information science, literary criticism, philosophy, history, and journalism studies – together with some practical analysis based on 15 years as a web practitioner and content creator. It is a starting point.


This paper suggests that a pronounced effect of the world wide web is the further atomising of many once‐shared Western post‐war narratives, and the global democratising of doubt as a powerful though not necessarily helpful epistemological tool. The world wide web is the place that most actively demonstrates contemporary doubt.

Research limitations/implications

This is the starting place for a piece of larger cross‐faculty (and cross‐platform) research into the arena of trust and doubt. In particular, the relationship of concepts such as news, event, history and myth with the myriad content platforms of new media, the idea of the digital consumer, and the impact of geography on knowledge that is enshrined in the virtual. This paper attempts to frame a few of the initial issues inherent in the idea of “trust” in the digital age and argues that without some kind of shared aesthetics of narrative judgment brought about through a far broader public understanding of (rather than an interpretation of) oral, visual, literary and multi‐media narratives, stories and plots, we cannot be said to trust many types of knowledge – not just in philosophical terms but also in our daily actions and behaviours.


This paper initiates debate about whether the creation of a new academic “space” in which cross‐faculty collaborations into the nature of modern narrative (in terms of production and consumption; producers and consumers) might be able to help us to understand more of the social implications of the collaborative content produced for consumption on the world wide web.



Hunt, R. (2008), "Civilisation and its disconnects", Aslib Proceedings, Vol. 60 No. 5, pp. 417-443.

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