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“Everything is turned into a highway”

(three weeks without Google)

[Original German Blog Post]

“The building of new ELECTRONIC SUPERHIGHWAYS will be an even bigger enterprise [compared to building the Interstate Network]. Suppose we connect New York and Los Angeles with multi-layer of broadband communication networks, such as domestic satellites, wave guides, bunches of co-axial cables, and later the fiber-optics laser beam. […] The effect would be more numerous [as the side effects of the moon landing]” Nam June Paik (quoted from Wulf Herzogenrath (Ed.): “Nam June Paik. Werke 1946-1976”, Köln 1976.)

At the Venice Biennial, Nam June Paik as German contribution 1993 showed The Electronic Superhighway ‘Venice → Ulan Bator’. Paik had in a study for the Rockefeller Foundation as soon as 1974 presented a concept of a data highway, that Bill Clinton would pick up for his campaign twenty years later.

“How many slums will we bulldoze to build the Information Superhighway?” Kivistik said. […] “How many on-ramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway.?”
Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

The Internet as data highway – Daten-Autobahn; from the beginning this metaphor ridiculed. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s words ring in our ears as well as Al Gore in his unbearable self-righteousness.

Just as Randy Waterhouse, the protagonist of Neal Stephenson’s great novel Crypotnomicon gets outraged on the sociologist Dr. Kivistik – who is apparently completely untouched by technology – spoiling his beautiful Internet by drawing the parallel of an “Information Superhighway” to its end.

“I know that you’re not qualified to have an opinion about technical issues.” Waterhouse barks helplessly back; the sociologist – in his opinion lacking technological insights – should just not be able to give a qualified statement about the Internet.

But the picture of the highway is not at all inappropriate for the Internet, however, not so much because data speeds along some backbones at high velocity. It is rather that to build highways you have to plane away whole landscapes, and former remote spots suddenly become suburbs of the metropoles.

“The American way of life: […] What America has to offer: comfort, the best gadgets in the world, ready for use,[…]wherever they go, everything is turned into a highway with the world as a wall of billboards on either side […]

Max Frisch puts in the mouth of his misanthrope Homo Faber. The highway as illustration of the waste land, the monotonous, flanked by advertising. Smoothing and homogenizing once varied neighborhoods: for this analogy of highway and Internet we should likely find much sympathy amongst the book sellers.

And while regions connected to the highway get melted into one big periphery, the remaining land moves suddenly far away. People without a car lose their connection – in the very sense of the word.

Not being active online, does not at all mean the Internet would not intrude many parts of the life. Biometric ID-cards, electronic tax declarations, video surveillance, and dialog marketing. Streetview or Yasni – everyone gets forcefully connected, and to opt out is only possible for those who generally participate in the game – most of these databases would not offer even “blurring”: In the electric world, there are no remote places.

The tendency to plane down, to grade, to misappropriate on the one hand, and marginalize on the other, which comes with the Information Highway, has to get opposed by a framework that gives everybody the same chance to use the Net and at the same time preserves the multitude of opinions and counteracts homogenization by “affirmative action” on minorities.

In the meantime I have not been using search engines for three weeks. I am not strict with that – one week, or three, or for ever – this is likely the same. I have to date not reached a point at which it would be hard to get perfectly oriented in the Internet and in the real world as well without Google.

In Google’s system, I see the Information Superhighway – for the better and the worse- come to perfection. Everything gets in reach, everything can become visible and accessible. Everything gets planed into a hit-list, changing the world into the wall of billboards as in Max Frisch’s quote above.

The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

By Joerg Blumtritt

Joerg Blumtritt (*1970) is data scientist and blogger. He co-founded the companies Datarella and BAYDUINO, based in Munich, Germany, and Baltic Data Science in Gdansk, Poland. Datarella develops data-driven products for the Internet of Things, BDS delivers data-science-as-a-service, BAYDUINO builds open source hardware.

Before that, Joerg had worked for media companies in Europe and the US. Having graduated in statistics and political sciences with a thesis on machine learning, Joerg started as a researcher in behavioral sciences, focused on nonverbal communication.

As political activist and researcher, Joerg works on projects regarding future democratic participation and open source IoT. He is co-author of the Slow Media Manifesto and blogs about media and art at slow-media.net, about data and the future of social research at beautifuldata.net, and about the IoT at datarella.com.

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