(three weeks without Google)
“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 was 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 -for him lacking technological insights- should just not be allowed to give a qualified statement about the Internet.
After all, 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.
As Max Frisch puts in the mouth of his misanthrope Homo Faber:
“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 […]“
The highway as illustration of the waste land, the monotonous, flanked by advertising. Smoothing and homogenising the once varied neighbourhoods: 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, other places move 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 to marginalise 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 homogenisation 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.