I was channel surfing on my car radio yesterday when I caught this silly Internet song on WGBH, our local NPR station. I had stumbled onto Ellen Kushner's weekly program Sound & Spirit. This installment was an exploration of weaving and its significance across world cultures. Weaving isn't really my thing, but I just happened to catch the moment when Kushner explained how the connection between weaving and the web is much more than metaphorical. It all starts around minute 17 of this complete recording of the show.
If you're curious to know more about how the computer under your fingertips owes its logic to the shirt on your back, be sure to look up Charles Babbage, the genius whose "Analytical Engine" revolutionized both weaving and computing, though in the latter case only after several generations.
This story brought up some old memories for me. Babbage was a key figure in a famous installment of James Burke's 1980s show Connections, which ranks right up there with Carl Sagan's Cosmos in my pantheon of formative TV. (The similarity in program names chosen by Burke and myself is no accident.)
What I never knew about Babbage was his relationship to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate of England. Kushner touched on this in her program and shared a lovely musical rendition of Tennyson's epic poem "The Lady of Shalott." It's the story of a beautiful woman who is a fantastically talented weaver. She is cursed to live high in a castle tower, where she can only observe the world as it is reflected in a mirror by her window. Finally she can stand the isolation no longer... and you'll have to read the poem to find out what happens.
Were the Lady of Shalott with us today, would she be a web-surfing blogger?