Hyper Links: The Symmetrical trade off and the FOSS projects


The book titled, On the Internet: Thinking in Action by Dreyfus (2009) address the difficult trade-offs with the use of Internet technology in human life. As a professor of philosophy at University of California at Berkeley and the author of What Computers Still Can’t Do and Being in the World. Dreyfus questions the outrageous prediction of Internet technology.

We are told that, given its new way of linking and accessing information, the internet will bring a new era of economic prosperity, lead to the development of intelligent search engines that will deliver to us just the information we desire, solve the problems of mass education, put us in touch with all of actual reality, enable us to explore virtual worlds that enable us to have even more flexible identities than we have in the real world and thereby add new dimensions of meaning to our lives. (Dreyfus, 2009, p. 2)

The book outlined into five chapters. Each chapter discusses the difficult trade-offs caused by the different features of Internet technology. The first chapter elaborates on, hyper links and information search. The advanced search engines provide information without wasting time and money. However, the trade-off is making meaningful connections with human judgments and the relevant information.

Dreyfus introduces the symmetrical trade offs between the hyper links in human life and in the process of information retrieval. Hyperlinks can increase the speed and processing power of computers but is not able to get the relevant information.

A comparison of Old and New Information Retrieval Source: (Dreyfus, 2009, p. 13)
A comparison of Old and New Information Retrieval. Source: (Dreyfus, 2009, p. 13)

Dreyfus provides a comparison between the old system of information retrieval and the new system of information retrieval. The old system had a meaning driven information retrieval system with a semantic structure. However, the new hyper linked culture is meaningless and has a syntactic structure. The old system had a stable and hierarchically organized information system with in it, but the new system is diversified with flexible and single level information retrieval. The author also points out the importance of careful selection and interested browsing, but the new system has been replaced with access to everything and playful surfing. Dreyfus makes the distinction with reference to Aristotle “since Aristotle, we have been accustomed to organize information in a hierarchy of broader and broader classes, each including the narrower ones beneath it” (Dreyfus, 2009, p. 11). For example, in the hierarchically organized system you will first learn about animals before you learn about the Rabbits. However in the hyperlinked system you can learn about Rabbits before you learn about the animal system. Here, Dreyfus argues the trade off is the meaningful connection between the Rabbits and the animals.

Even though, Dreyfus has been questioning the relevance of information retrieval through the Internet. This technology has been playing a major role in the development of FOSS projects. The literature has reported on the development of FOSS projects in 90’s and the impact of Internet in FOSS development. In the seminal work titled The Cathedral and the Bazaar Raymond (1999) presents how Linus Torvalds developed the Linux operating system with bazar model of collaboration through the Internet.


Dreyfus, H. L. (2009). On the Internet. Thinking in action (2nd ed.). Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Dreyfus, H. L. (2002). Anonymity versus Commitment: the dangers of education on the Internet. Educational Philosophy & Theory, 34(4), 369-378. doi:10.1080/0013185022000011763

Raymond, E. (1999). The cathedral and the bazaar. Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 12(3), 23–49. doi:10.1007/s12130-999-1026-0

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