Perhaps, like me, your first thought on rising this morning was of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and St Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order.
Because thirty years ago today Tim Berners-Lee made the World Wide Web available as a public service on the internet. And eight hundred years ago today St Dominic died on a pile of sacking at a monastery in Bologna. Two very different people, remote in time and space, and yet both transformed the world through innovations in communications technology.
Tim Berners-Lee threw a girdle around the earth, connecting us via the internet to each other, to goods and services, to the entire sum of human knowledge, and a trillion dog pictures.
St Dominic also girdled the earth, inventing a religious order, the Dominicans, which educated the developing cities of the thirteenth century. We must sow the seed, not hoard it, he said; and he as he sowed so he reaped.
Of course, innovation can go either way.
On the debit side, the World Wide Web has given us trolling, cancel culture, cybercrime, and Baby Shark.
And the Dominicans brought us the Spanish Inquisition, the Singing Nun, and the 0758 from Crofton Park to Blackfriars.
Innovators bring with them unintended consequences, and we may live to rue the day some bright spark had a brilliant idea. But we must learn to live with this – to love it, even – for it is our salvation.
Without innovation we would still probably be in full lockdown. Sarah Gilbert, Kettering’s most garlanded daughter, and her team in Oxford, which brought us the AZ vaccine, have demonstrated eloquently the world-shaping power of science. Some of the reactions to it have demonstrated eloquently the world-warping power of its opposite.
Get you vicar, you might be thinking, with your fancy evidence-free assertions about the dead living again. But the St Dominics of this world, signed up to that as I am, have created huge benefits for humanity, just as the Tim Berners-Lees have. In the name of both science and religion great and terrible things have been done.
Because the problem is not the system, not normally; but us, the crooked timber of humanity out of which no straight thing was ever made.