Sleepy time

Earlier this week, pretty much from one day to the next, Alex finally grasped the idea of this whole “sleep” thing. We have a rocking chair in his bedroom, and until now we have rocked him to sleep every night. It usually took about 20 minutes, but sometimes as long as 45 before he would doze off and be sufficiently solid to move him to his cot.

As of this week, he no longer wants to be rocked to sleep. He’s happy enough to sit or lie in Abi’s or my lap for a few minutes, so we can tell him a story or play the eyes and nose game with him. But then he arches his back and starts loocking over at the cot.

“Beh,” he says.

“You want to go to bed? You want to go to your cot?”

He nods his little head.

So we lift him up and lower him gently into the cot. He lies down immediately, and curls himself round onto his stomach, clutching his cuddly toy to his chest. We rub his back, tell him we love him, and say “night-night.”

And then we leave the room, close the door, and walk away…in perfect silence! No screaming, no anguished cries of “dada!” or “mama!” Just the peaceful knowledge that he has learned to go to sleep on his own. I’m so proud of him!

Of course, at Nursery he’s been falling asleep for his mid-day nap on his own for some time now. But that’s not the same as falling asleep alone at home, where he knows he can command mama and dada’s attention, and make us do (almost) anything he wants. It means that what he really wants is to not to play, or have a story, but to fall asleep. It’s a big step.

What makes the web?

A few things recently have made me wonder what exactly makes this thing we call “the web” what it is? What makes it useful? What makes it materially different from anything that has come before? The only observations I have come up with seem obvious–even banal–on their own. But put them together, and they produce this incredibly powerful…thing.

Content: A Book

Never before has such a wealth of information been available through a single access point. There is vastly more knowledge available elsewhere than there is on the internet (in libraries, newspaper archives, and on millions of people’s bookshelves), but you can’t get at it through a single wire, person, or contact point like you can with the internet.

Indexing: A Catalogue

Altavista, Google, Teoma…. There are others, and there will be more and better search engines in the future. But even now, the indexes of the web dwarf by manyorders of magnitude any previous attempt to condense and collate keywords and metadata.

Community: A Café

Content and indexes make for a great library, but people don’t hang out in libraries just for fun. Yet people have made the internet their homes–sometimes in a nearly literal sense. People have always come together in groups, and every form of technology that has allowed communication (letters, telegraph, telephone, ham radio) has fostered new communities. The community aspect was one of the earliest properties to emerge from electronic networks (email), and it has been in continuous evolution since then, through dial-up BBSs, on-line forums, chat boards and blogs.

Just as with Content and Indexing, there is very little that qualitatively distinguishes on-line communities from their real-life counterparts. It’s the quantity, ubiquity, and fluidity of their creation and make-up that makes the big difference.

Connectedness: An Address Book

Every web page can be connected to any other by a single step. This means that every piece of knowledge can be instantly referenced by every other, and every community is within shouting (whispering?) distance of every other. Connections and comparisons that were previously difficult or elaborate, now are suddenly simple. The power of a network increases with its size (Metcalfe’s Law), and also with the number of connections between its nodes.

Again, this networking effect has always been present in human communities: someone knows someone else, who knows someone or something else, and so the chain goes. But the speed and volume of connections on the internet is vastly greater.


Going by these observations, there is very little the web does that has not been done elsewhere. Yet I feel that the web is qualitatively different from all that has gone before. Paradoxically, though, it seems to be the quantitative differences that combine to make a qualitative difference.

Am I wrong here? Am I missing something? Is the “Internet” really something different at all? Please enlighten me with your comments!

(See also Part 2 of this article.


Normally, a severe barfing session on the day after one’s birthday would suggest a night of heavy partying. The alternative explanation is that one has come down with a case of the seemingly endemic winter vomiting. Sigh. I’m recovering now, but I’m exhausted, and my chest and stomach muscles all ache whenever I sneeze or draw a deep breath.

Possibly the worst part of being sick was not being able to enjoy my birthday lunch at the Hong Kong Martell. Mum & dad and Scott & Ange had all come round for the occasion, but by the time we got to the restaurant, all I had appetite for was their jasmine tea. And I’d so been looking forward to having their scallop parcels again, too!

Never mind. We’ll just have to do it all again in the New Year. Everyone else had a good time, though, and Alex kept us entertained with his latest party trick: balancing his juice cup on an upturned tea cup, then flinging his arms out and exclaiming “ta-daa!” Abi often entertains him by jumping out from behind objects and going “ta-daa!”, but this was the first time he’d performed the action himself. He had us all in fits of giggles. The boy is a born comedian.