With today being Nothing Day, it’s the perfect opportunity to do something that some people might say I do very well – talk about nothing.
But this is a bit different. I don’t mean that I’m going to talk about no specific thing. Instead I’m going to talk specifically about nothing. The concept of nothing, and how important it is to us, especially online. In short, nothing is really something.
In 2009, an art exhibition opened in Paris that was literally all about nothing. People were invited to walk through nine rooms of the Pompidou Centre that were completely empty, gaze at empty walls and then make their way into the outside world, back into somethingness.
This shows that nothing can be very powerful and important. What’s more, without it, the internet just wouldn’t work.
The ancient Greeks, despite being the founders of many principles of mathematics, struggled with the concept of nothing. They didn’t use the number zero, and nor did the Romans – have you ever seen ‘0’ crop up in Roman numbers?
Today though, the digit 0 plays a very important role to the whole way computers operate. Almost all computers are built and programmed through binary – a simple counting system that consists entirely of ones and zeros.
Binary is easy to implement and straightforward for computers to understand. Computers like to deal with the concept of something being one thing or another, and by reducing counting to just two digits, binary can be seen as ‘on’ and ‘off’, with 0 meaning ‘off’.
For example, if we take a binary number like ‘1001, we know that this means there is an eight and a one, but that four and two are ‘off’. We therefore add eight and one and work out that 1001 is the number nine in binary.
Consider Google as well, which gets its name from a number with a lot of zeros. When it gives its search results, it turns the letter Os in its name into number 0s. Strangely, although zero represents nothing, many zeros together make us think of enormous quantities.
Especially online, it can make a real impression to take something that exists and turn it into nothing.
In 2016, the band Radiohead generated considerable publicity by simply getting rid of their online presence. Likewise, reference website Wikipedia has been known to participate in “blackout” periods in protest of such matters as US anti-piracy laws.
In late 2017, the world also changed for 11 minutes when Donald Trump’s Twitter page mysteriously turned into nothing.
Philosophy of nothing
Nothing has even become a philosophical doctrine. Nihilism is the belief that life is meaningless, and that there is nothing we can derive any values or principles from. Some nihilists even believe that nothing really exists.
For an interesting online definition of nihilism, try the spoof encyclopaedia website Uncyclopedia.
As you can see, nothing is important and valuable. So, next time you’re accused of “doing nothing”, you can in fact argue that you’re doing something truly worthwhile.