In his classic book, An Introduction to Mathematics, Alfred Whitehead discusses the importance of abstraction:
Our knowledge of the particular facts of the world around us is gained from our senses. We see, hear, taste, smell, feel hot and cold, push, rub, ache, and tingle. These are just our own personal sensations, my toothache cannot be your toothache, my sight cannot be your sight. We ascribe the origin of our sensations to relations between the things which form the external world. Thus the dentist extracts the tooth, not the toothache. There is not one world of things for my sensations and another for yours, but one world in which both exist. It is the same tooth for both dentist and patient. Clearly, we want to describe the connections between the external things in some way which does not depend on any particular sensations, nor even on the sensations of any particular person. The same for blind men as for deaf men. All science as it grows toward perfection becomes [abstract] in its ideas.
There are many parallels between Whitehead's discussions of abstraction to the design of information for the Web:
Our knowledge of the particular facts on the Web is gained from various devices. Browsers let us see information. Audio devices let us hear information. Braille devices let us feel information. Video players provide a multisensory experience. We see, hear, and touch the Web. We ascribe the origin of these sensations to the information in a document. Thus the parser extracts the data, not the multisensory experience. There is not one Web of information for my sensations and another for yours, but one Web in which both exist. It is the same information for both parser and video player. Clearly, we want to describe the information in some way which does not depend on any particular sensations, nor even on the sensations of any particular person. The same for blind men as for deaf men. The same for browsers, audio devices, braille devices and video players. All information as it grows toward perfection becomes abstract in its form.
XHTML is making it possible to experience information via countless different devices. Design your XHTML marked-up information in an abstract fashion, freed from reference to particular devices.
This document is presentable and parseable information.
Last Updated: September 2, 2006