especially in two areas of our lives. One of these is just now receiving widespread attention, the other is a major part of most of our lives--but we may not appreciate the immensity of the gifts to us both represent. I'm talking about our national parks and the Internet. They each, in their own way, give every one of us access to what was, throughout most of human history, the province of the very wealthy or the royal among us.
I was reminded of this watching the premiere of the new film series by Ken Burns, The National Parks, subtitled America's Best Idea. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to travel slowly up and down and across these United States have a sense of its natural beauty and the hugeness of its landscape. But think about this: Up until about 150 years ago, the most beautiful views in all the world were largely reserved for the rich. In other parts of the world, you either had to be very very wealthy or the member of a royal family to own and enjoy the most beautiful and nourishing natural vistas. The creators of this amazing system of natural parks, including naturalist John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt, felt the most majestic sites of natural beauty should belong to everyone and be preserved forever for the public good. Whenever someone rants about "government control," this is an often overlooked example of how government acted in the interest and to the great benefit of all human beings.
Just imagine what would have happened at Yellowstone and Yosemite or Grand Canyon if unfettered commercial development had occurred. The way this almost ruined Niagara Falls
with different entrepreneurs creating shoddy tourist traps at every overlook inspired some of the early enthusiasm for some way to protect natural beauty for future generations.
Do you want to get a sense of how rich you really are? Visit a national park, or several, and
realize this all belongs to you and your family--forever. Check out this article for more:
And much the same consciousness was present in the people who created and nurtured this amazing phenomenon known as the Internet, and the World Wide Web. (by the way, these two terms describe two different but related entities and are not synonymous--as noted in the following article)
In bygone eras, ordinary people couldn't even own a book--only the wealthy, religious leaders, and members of royalty had unlimited access to the world's knowledge and wisdom. And no matter how rich or powerful and high born you were, you would not have been able to tap more than an infinitesimal fraction of the information more than a billion people can now see and hear and learn every day as they surf the Internet. And despite some efforts to take the free aspect away from this bastion of democracy and freedom, there is a powerful consensus to preserve it for future generations as a tool available for everyone.
The national parks and the Internet--perhaps the two prime examples of democracy in action. Do you really appreciate them? Do you realize how wealthy they really make you? Does just thinking about either put a smile on your face? Maybe Ken Burns can do the Internet as one of his next projects.