The Interconnectedness of Chaos
A Dialogue between
Roberto Calvo Macias and Dr. Sam Vaknin
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This game is about thinking "future".
We assume (in this game) that this complex techno-rational organization (or more prosaically: the modern world of the West) is trying to reach and does reach "total organization" (that is to say: total inter-connection).
This could be an epiphenomenon (beyond a critical point quantitative changes metamorphose into qualitative changes). We shall analyse the possible configurations, bifurcations and critical thresholds; and determine zones of meta-stability, next to equilibrium and far from equilibrium and also the possible attractors and "strange attractors". This is to say: a complex study of the future (that special version of the future conceived as total organization).
Equating "total organization" with inter-connectedness may be wrong.
Obviously, it may be wrong. It was just a "name", let's just say interconnectedness.
This is not what I meant to say. I meant: interconnectedness does not necessarily lead to total organization. It can lead to total chaos and anarchy, for instance by multiplying the effects of perturbances.
This is what I want to know: will it lead to total chaos or to total organization, or to a mix of the two (that's my bet).
Aren't we transforming our images of "chaos and order"?
It is a series of questions, each one deserving of its own mini-essay.
Yes, I believe our concepts of "order" and "chaos" and the way we imagine them have been drastically revamped in the last few decades, following the chaotic world wars.
The two were always inter-connected. We must not forget that the universe was moulded by God out of chaos, according to the opening chapter of Genesis. But while in the past and until recently the two were considered opposites - today they are considered as two poles of a continuum by one account or as emergent phenomena by another. Chaos emerges out of order given certain inputs and order emerges out of chaos given others. This picture emerges everywhere - from the workings of the brain to astrophysics.
Aren't we changing/complementing our old archetypes with new dynamic ones?
If taken in the Jungian sense, order and chaos are not strictly archetypes.
Rather they are "meta"-types. They are tendencies, potentials, paths, waiting to be materialized and made use of by archetypes. This perception hasn't changed. Chaos and order are still regarded as states of matter and of energy, as organizational principles, as residents of the twilight zone between the mental or subjective and the external, the "objective".
Are we changing our forms of perception, or perception itself?
I don't think such a distinction can be made. I think that our perception is shaped by our ideas (our forms of perception). The content in-forms the vessel. Our perception adapts itself to what we think about our perception and to what we think about our thoughts. So, yes, if our thoughts about chaos and order (two immensely important perceptual filters) have changed - so, inevitably, has our perception.
Are we changing our selves while inter-acting with nature?
Need this question be asked? Or, rather, CAN this question be asked this way? Are we not part of nature and our interactions, are they not natural?
We are changing because no interaction is possible without some kind of exchange and trading taking place. We give of ourselves and receive from others. This is the very definition and the very essence of change.
Are we entering a new age, with new senses?
Are we metamorphosing to a dual perception, static and dynamic at the same time: wave/matter?
Are we ending/completing antiquity?
Are we delineating a new kind of dynamic myths: "gestalt", figure a-la Goethe's Protoform?
We are entering a new cosmic house: Aquarius. Are we entering in a new cosmology: i.e. fractals, chaos theories, complexity, quantum duality, pure materialism: Magical Realism?
In a new born, who can distinguish which sounds are the pains of parturition and which ones are the outcomes of the "happiness of creation"?
I take all these questions to be facets of one and the same. It is the awe inspired in us by the advent of novelty. We are on the threshold of radically revising old concepts, of drastically altering the way we see the world and us in it, in short: on the verge of spinning new myths to assuage our existential angst. It is an anxiety inducing transition and it was bound to shatter the foundation of the very language that we use. Hence the need to grapple with the ambiguities of "order" and "disorder". The need to revolutionize the way we ARE (at least cognitively) arose out of the onslaught of technology, the cultural shock that is the future shock. It is an adaptive mechanism, a reflex of adjustment to the ever faster pace of change.
Fully agree. Your ability to give clear descriptions is outstanding.
Thank you. Order is measured in physics by the decline in entropy in closed systems.
Ignoring for a minute that there are no closed systems in the universe (perhaps with the exception of the universe itself) - we are still left with the question: are interconnectedness and entropy inversely proportional?
In other words, does order increase the more we connect discreet elements to each other?
That is the question, my dear Hamlet? will order increase?
By definition organization is an increase in order.
Organization incorporates the transfer of structured (read: meaningful) information between elements in the organization (let us call them "organizational nodes").
It is easy to commit the logical fallacy of equating the transfer of structured information with order. If A=B and B=C then A=C.
But this is not necessarily so.
It is true that in a state of entropy, no transfer of information (bar random quantum vacuum fluctuations) is possible.
Would you like to further explain this? Earth is not a "state of entropy".
Earth is over-abundance ( by stealing the fire of gods (Prometheus): SUN.
Earth is an open system. It absorbs material from the outside. As a result, it is negentropic. It will never go cold. Entropy implies that all the energy available in the universe will be equally distributed in all space-time. The result will be a universe as cold as the absolute zero.
Entropy is a state where there are no heat (=information) differentials between all the points in a closed system (such as the universe is believed to be). The outcome of this absolutely equal distribution of heat is: no heat TRANSFERS (=no information exchanged between the points in the closed, entropic universe).
Organization = Order
Organization = (necessitates) internal transfers of information
BUT this does not necessarily imply that
Transfers of information=Order (or, rather, an INCREASE in order).
In other words:
Information can be transferred in a universe that is becoming less and less ordered. It is not an indication, IN ITSELF, that order is increasing. Our interconnectedness (=increasing and enhanced transfers of information and matter) is not an indication, IN ITSELF, that order is increasing or that we are on the way to total organization. We could well be on the way to chaos and anarchy.
It could well be..., but surely would be a different "anarchy", don't you think?
I will start my answer with a little detour. It is clear that entropy is a universal law which all theories must obey. But against this backdrop of ever increasing entropy - randomly generated pockets of negentropy are possible. If the asymmetry of time (its unidirectional flow from past to future) is determined by the increase in entropy, such pockets present an intellectually challenge. This is why I have to agree with you that social anarchy has very little to do with physical "anarchy" (chaos).
But that C cannot occur in a state D does not make it the opposite of D.
We cannot, therefore, say that - just because information transfer is impossible in an entropic system - it is the opposite of entropy (negentropy).
Could "information" be a special kind of "energy"?
In physics, all these (information, energy, heat) are interchangeable (one and the same). Clearly by transferring information you increase the energy of the recipient (=receiver) and decrease the energy of the sender. And clearly an increase in energy is manifested as an increase in heat (among other manifestations).
Couldn't the universe (or nature) create (in a pure sense: poesis) matter, or energy?
There is constant creation of matter in the universe. Quantum mechanics taught us that even "vacuum" is not what it seems. Matter is created out of vacuum quantum fluctuations (the result of the uncertainty principle and the ability of particles to be in a more than one place simultaneously).
Does matter think?
I am made of matter and I think (I think...:o))
Who says entropy is universal? Those are only interpretation, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, of universe. They are just fairy tales.
The second law of thermodynamics is a cornerstone of modern physics. It is even more unshakeable than the relativity theories. It is a meta-law in the sense that new theories must conform to it - or be ruled out. It has been incontrovertibly observed in many experiments and naturally occurring almost-closed systems. I don't think that it is an interpretation, let alone a fairy tale. It is a well-formulated outcome of observations.
I am not sure. If a system were to lose energy while gaining information (and in your own words: information=energy), could we talk about entropy?
An open system can lose less energy than it gains information - in which case, order will increase and entropy decrease. But closed systems do not lose or gain energy - they simply redistribute it among their constituents.
When equality is achieved, when every unit of volume of the closed system has the same energy content - entropy is maximized. It is true, though, that random and temporary "pockets" of negentropy can occur in parts of a closed system and emulate the behaviour of open systems.
We know of only one closed system - our universe. So, there isn't much point in talking about entropy in any other system because local conditions can lead to its decrease rather than to its increase.
Moreover: Interconnectedness implies the POTENTIAL of information transfer - not its actuality.
That's true. But, most of the time (unfortunately) potentiality goes to actuality.
Organizations are patterns and humans, notoriously, find patterns where there are none (in totally random populations). How can we be sure that what we judge to be an organization is not actually a random assemblage of elements?
We cannot assure anything - this is the "sign of our times". But we can say (or try to say, at least), with all due reservations, what could define (more or less) organization - there are even morphological profiles: organizations use rigid lines, rectangular, organism uses more fluid forms (bios, coral beads, flowers, etc.).
Let me demonstrate a strange morphological comparison:
Death-organization (bureaucracy)- entropy- crystals.
Life-organism - neg-entropy (information) - living beings.
It is indisputable that life - over short spans of time (prior to decay, ageing and death) - is negentropic. It is novel thought that bureaucracies/organizations are dead things which increase (or can be equated to) entropy.
Living things are also organizations which employ bureaucratic decision making processes. Human organizations, hierarchies and bureaucracies are a NATURAL thing (because humans, who are objects of nature, invented them).
So, I think that organizations/bureaucracies AND living things are ORDER - the opposite of entropy, that is: negentropic.
At least as long as they are ALIVE.
What if they die?
Are dead bodies, perfectly preserved for eternity - entropic or negentropic?
Are bureaucratic organizations which have no function anymore (NATO...:o)) - entropic or negentropic?
It is a VERY complex question. On the face of it, the fact that STRUCTURE is preserved (=the corpse, the skeletal organization) has, undoubtedly, negentropic effects. But if there is no FUNCTION - is there any transfer of energy? Of course not. And entropy is the ABSENCE, the STOPPAGE of transfer of energy.
We are faced with the following choices:
- It is life that separates entropy from negentropy. A structure without an ACTUAL function is entropic. The same structure when it functions (=lives) is NEGentropic.
You are touching the basis of that "new vision". Obviously we need organization (skeletal, structure) but we shall try to subordinate it to functions, and not the other way. Organizations (human organizations are known to) have this natural tendency to expand. We, as free humans shall in-form (give form, limits) this growth. This is to say: we shall construct an organism (part skeleton/ part function).
The definition of entropy (chaos) and negentropy (order) is much too narrow and, anyhow, is not applicable to open systems (such as the earth or living organisms).
I fully agree. In my previous comments I represented the classical point of view, just to draw the picture and how we shall change our view about entropy, information, neg-entropy, order and chaos. We shall try to see the being and the becoming at the same time.
Order is an emergent phenomenon (epiphenomenon). If a sufficient number of elements interact chaotically, order is created. But is it created only in our minds - limited as these are? Perhaps there are no such things as order and disorder. Perhaps they are only the names we give to two different cognitive, mental EXPERIENCES which have nothing to do with reality outside our brain. Pattern recognition must have represented an evolutionary advantage. That order emerges suddenly and fitfully may teach us a lot about ourselves rather than about our world.
This is a brilliant observation: it touches the raw nerve: how to know patterns, or reality. In other words: Matter, Modelization. Reality. We can say what is order only in reference to our minds, that is obvious.
About patterns, and that never-ending discussion regarding object/subject:
Videtur: suprema laus; evidence is supreme law.
This is why I like chaos theories, complexity, it simply offer itself to the eye - of course, it is another kind of faith, that is not for this post-modern world:-). But it is a kind of merely visual faith - it resonates profoundly in our mind: it's life moving itself. But, your comment doesn't resolve the question: should we eliminate (or forget them for the time being) those words: order and disorder. Do they not have a place in post-modern mentality? or should we understand them in a new way?
I think we should understand them as mental constructs, not as objective realities.
Then we should define them operationally and not ontologically. In other words: it is not that order exists either in the outside world or in our heads. It does not. But "order" is how we name a series of actions and reactions in our brain. It need not have an external trigger (as any dreamer, author, artist, or junkie can attest). It need not be even correlated with the outside world. But whenever we have this sequence of events in our heads - we call it order. And whenever we have another sequence - we call it chaos.
Yes. But this not resolves the question. What can be order for one person could be chaos to another.
Maybe societally and culturally, but not physically. In physics (thermodynamics, information theory, cybernetics) order is defined clearly.
What I am trying to say is that even this monovalent, unambiguous, clear cut definition is merely a labelling of mental processes. It contains less information about the world that about how we experience our interaction with the world. It says less about what's out there than what's in here.
Thus, the very premise that interconnectedness is bound to yield increasing order (total organization), which will epiphenomenally spring forth - is, to my mind, simplistic and dubious on ontological grounds. A case can be presented (however counter-intuitive) that inter-connectedness increases entropy, disorder and disorganization rather than the other way around.
Well, it could be...( my introduction to the game contained only one premise and the rest were pure questions). Predicting those possibilities are the finality of this game.
Think about the following:
If information will be instantly available to everyone everywhere instantaneously and all the time - the world will have become MORE entropic, not less so. The very definition of entropy is an equal distribution of heat (information).
Again my question: could information be "another kind" of "energy"?
And another one (related to our primordial definition).
Let us reach an agreement on order and disorder before we start the game.
If entropy is an equal distribution of heat, could entropy be equalized to order: crystals?
Every ordinary physicist will have ignored this last question of yours disdainfully.
But I will not, because I am no ordinary physicist (this is my narcissism rearing its ugly head ...:o)) and because it is a good question and because it is good to ask such questions.
You see, I think that we, the human race, did NOT reach an agreement (not even an intuitive one) regarding "what is order" (and, by implication, what is disorder). Because we do NOT possess such an agreement, we were surprised by Chaos Theory (chaos leading to order), by recent astrophysics (black holes, the big bang - order leading to chaos and chaos leading to order), by phase transitions (sudden emergence of anew kind of order), by some thermodynamic effects (order emerging from total chaotic dynamics). We simply did not and do not know what to expects.
In my humble opinion, the distinction between order and disorder is false and reflects MENTAL states, as I said before.
Tell me, which is ordered and which is disordered:
iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii (SET #1)
iiii iiii iiiiiiii (SET #2)
If you say that the second set is the ordered one (4+4=8) - isn't it all in your mind? had you never heard of arithmetic would you still have considered the second set more orderly than the first? You need to KNOW mathematics to declare the second set more orderly. In other words, order is not a property of the set - it is all in your head.
And if you say that the first set is the more ordered - how can it be? It contains less information than the second one and anything that contains less information is more entropic, i.e. more disordered. Still, it IS ordered. No one will say that it is chaotic. But in which way is it ordered and in which way is it disordered? And if the information (4+4=8) is only in our heads is order an extensive parameter (=property) of the system studied or of OUR BRAIN?
Well, I will not say that is FALSE, I prefer to say that opinions on order and disorder change with time.
About the BRAIN and the never ending object/subject dichotomy we have only experience to arbiter. It is obvious that we are in an age in which even doubt is put in doubt, but we can establish some regions of certainty.
And we can say that matter goes to spirit and vice versa.
Chaos leads to order, order leads to chaos: life.
The more interconnectedness - the more anarchy and dissolution of centres of power, the less rigid and hierarchical the social structures, the more democratic the access to information. This is LESS order - not more so.
Which world was more totally organized - Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany or current Russia and the current USA?
This is my great doubt, and the reason I started this dialogue.
Taking account of the classical definition of order, stability, discipline, etc... I will have answered that Nazi society was the more "organized". On the the other hand, if we understand the concept of "order" as motion, or we use meta-stability instead of rigid stability, I would answer that the current USA is the more organized. As demonstrated by history: the Nazis survived for twenty years, the USA much longer.
Assuming, of course, that there is a positive correlation between the extent to which a society is ordered and its chances to survive. Many management gurus believe otherwise and encourage "creative chaos" or "chaotic creativity" (the very characteristic of modern entrepreneurship).
This is also my opinion. The more chaotic the creativity, the more survival-orientated the responses. Obviously, from a remote view, this creative chaos could be seen as a superior order. As in fractals, the description has to correspond to distances and methods.
You see, order (or disorder) is covariant, that is to say observer-dependent. It is all relative, there is no privileged frame of reference. Einstein would have loved it.
But, without doubt, the more ordered (rigid, chaotically, or whatever) a society the more chances it has to survive. Order in an organism could be equalized with wealth. An high-order organism is that of supreme wealth.
Why more democratic the access to information is less order? Why?
Because to us, old hands, order implies hierarchy, structure, regulated flows of information and deterministic decision making processes.
Information monopolies are essential to maintain this kind of order.
Imagine if our kidney had access to neurotransmitters and could produce them. Or if our brain was able to process food. Actually, mammal brain are separated from the rest of the body by what is known as "brain blood barrier" which does not allow 99.9% of all the substances circulating in the body to come through.
Think about terrorists having access to sites on the web with bomb construction and germ breeding information. Think about paranoid people preyed upon by sadists by email. Think about crooks selling non-existent services to gullible clients.
Problems, errors, terrorism, etc... are insoluble. They are inherent to humans. To ask technology to resolve those problems is, like we say in Spain, to ask an elm tree for pears, to expect the impossible.
I am not asking technology to resolve these problems - merely not to make them worse.
And if not to solve human problems - what is technology for?
That's precisely what I would like to know: what the hell is technology for? Do you know? If so, just tell me, we can write a book and become millionairies.:-)
I agree with you in certain parts. It seems that technological-organizational thinking implies a central structure, hierarchy.
This is the reason for my interest in the structure of the internet - and here you can show things (to our future lectors) better than me: I don't know this structure deeply.
The internet is an amazing example of order as an emergent phenomenon.
Engineering-wise it is chaotic. Pathways criss cross each other geographically and messages are broken to packets which are then distributed randomly through these pathways and re-assembled upon arrival at their destination.
Still, a profound and hyper-complex order emerges and the united resources of the net were even put to use as the virtual equivalent of a supercomputer.
See my: http://narcissism.cjb.net/internet.html orhttp://members.tripod.com/~samvak/internet.html
But I think we can also make a new distinction: what is decisive nowadays (and always), is not the control of information. The treasures are the channels (of water, of cars, of bits, etc...). Those who control the channels are the new masters. The only way to avoid this "new state extortion", is to create our own channels, to send our information within our own channels (to have our satellites, just like modern parabolicantennas but with two way input-output) and this takes us again to the beginning of this vicious circle: we shall have our own energy (sun panels). This is a never-ending fight between organization and organism. We shall use hackers tactics, always beyond the organizational time (at the moment we can go beyond the organizational space: do you have your own UFO?:-))
Anyway, on what basis do you make such assertions about information monopolies? should the USA conserve its "nuclear weapons" in secrecy? have you read Hannah Arendt, do you know what secrecy implies? The "good times "of CIA, and KGB, have, fortunately, passed. Was it a good decision (to increase "order") to forbid all drugs? what would have happened had the government washed its hands regarding this matter? We cannot know what would have happened, but...
Moreover, and this is about copyright matters, a high-quality creation doesn't need copyright, its protection is inside it.
What I want to say is: the state should not intervene to control this chaotic process of interconnectedness (each intervention will produce more troubles than benefits), it should let this anarchy go its own way, and in an unforced manner, create its own hierarchies and rules. In a more prosaic way: more "physis" and less "polis" (it's time to read the pre-socratics).
At the beginning of a new medium, channels are always more important than content and then, as the medium matures, the picture reverses. The digital revolution made channels so cheap and the competition so fierce that we have already entered the phase of content domination. True, internal portals still carry heavy weight and outlandish price tags. Broadband and interactivity still dominate the thoughts of those who count. But underneath, the content revolution seethes. Everyone is nowadays a publisher (of e-books, of e-zines), a rebel, a preacher in potential. The barriers for entry into the hitherto exclusive universe of content creation have been removed. To really secure future freedom it is the content that should be emphasized, in my opinion. As computers become cheaper, wireless technologies are introduced and communication speeds and storage (computer memory) costs collapse - channels will become less important.
Regarding the acronym soup you threw at me - I think, as regards everything in life - it is a matter of degree. I am against what the CIA has done to the likes of Allende. Of course I am against what the KGB has done to tens of millions. But I fully support a certain censorship and restrictions of access. I think that children should not gain access to pedophile sites, nor should terrorists download instructions on how to prepare bombs. I think that Iraq should gain no access to sites dealing with the nuts and bolts of biological warfare. It is a matter of self-preservation mind you. I develop a strange tendency to forget all my noble principles - freedom of speech included - when threatened credibly. So, no, I do not think that the internet should be left to self-regulate because I think that it largely failed to do so.
And I support the legalization of all drugs and the abolition of monopoly profits resulting from the current form of copyright. But copyright protection is not aimed at preventing copying. It is aimed at rewarding the author / creator / artist whenever copying does occur.
I am not against censorship. But I prefer that governments do not intervene (or intervene only minimally) in such questions. All organizations build their own modes of security. Secrecy is one of the bases of any business and state. But we should let the internet resolve its own problems. Pedophile, child abuse, terrorism: all those things existed and are growing rapidly even without internet. Just think about Thailand, or some other places in South-America. Unfortunately, such people (as awful and horrible as we judge them to be) are part of creation. We have to live with that. The Internet will not change those things, the Internet will not make us better. Information, education have nothing to do with "good or bad" matters. Moreover, ages of high-intelligence (such as the Renaissance) were almost a-moral. I am an author, am I not?:-) So I am not against copyright. What I want to say its that the concept itself is changing. How could we control this copying process in a world of total interconnectedness? I think there is no way, do you know one?
We are reverting to the middle-ages, to the cathedrals, it's not the time for genius.
So, the one-and-only authentic copyright is inside the work.
Regarding the first issue:
I do not expect technology to change human nature which clearly includes sadistic and aggressive impulses (Freud's Thanatic instinct). I simply expect the technology not to provide such impulses with ready tools.
Regarding the second issue:
Of course there is a way to protect copyright in the digital age if all the links in the chain of production and distribution were to collaborate. A prime example is the recent events in digital music. Record labels and manufacturers of consumer electronics have teamed to produce a digital encryption standard which will preserve some copyright protection in the face of pirated, downloadable music in MP3 and other formats.
BEFORE WE START WITH THE PRECISE QUESTIONS LET US REACH AN AGREEMENT REGARDING THE DEFINITION OF "ORDER". HERE ARE A FEW IDEAS:
ORDER: DEGREE OF AGREEMENT OF A COMMUNITY REGARDING CERTAIN POLITICAL RULES.
ORDER: GRADES OF POLITICAL/SOCIOLOGICAL DISTURBANCES: SOCIAL DISOBEDIENCE, VIOLATIONS OF NORMAL COMMERCIAL AGREEMENTS.
ORDER: DEGREE OF TRUST OF A COMMUNITY (BETWEEN ITS MEMBERS AND COMMUNITY ITSELF).
ORDER: DEGREE OF VARIATION OF THE ORGANIZATION'S CURRENCY( DOLLAR, FRANC, MARK, PESETA:-).
ORDER: DEGREE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL WEALTH OF THE COMMUNITY'S MEMBERS.:-)
ORDER: DEGREE OF THE INCREASE OR DECREASE OF THE RATIO OF POLICE FORCES TO THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE.:-)
ORDER: COMMON SENSE OF PAX, STABILITY AND A CERTAIN TRANQUILITY - HOWEVER DYNAMIC IT WILL BE: ARE THE USA IN ORDER? JUST IN APPEARANCE.
ORDER: THE COMMUNITIES ABILITY TO CREATE AND ENJOY "FIESTAS" AND OFFER RESPECTABLE ("humanitas" comes from "humare": to give grave, to bury) FUNERALS (THIS IS, IMHO, THE BEST HALLMARK OF "ORDER").
ORDER: DEGREE OF PEOPLES' FAITH IN THE FUTURE.:-)
ORDER: THE MURDERERS TO POPULATION RATIO.:-)
ORDER: THE SUICIDES TO POPULATION RATIO.:-)
ORDER: DEGREE OF SEXUAL PRACTICING.:-)
And my personal opinion: order is the natural
equilibrium between liberty and necessity -
this is to say: order always exists, order in necessity.
Until refuted by discoveries we can suppose
that the universe is in a state of equilibrium.
When we reach a high equilibrium we can name it beauty. Beauty is the exuberance of order, perfection in
liberty, which allows the organism to do unnecessary things (more
We can discuss about order taking account of its own origins. Of course, as with most things, it is the off-spring of war. Roman legions were among the first and purest examples of order. It was biased by this necessity and determined by it: to move a certain high number of people through a territory.
Reflect profoundly on these two sentences:
The Order of the Law. The Law of Order.
In Spanish these two sentences are even more revealing:
The (masculine) Order (/discipline) of the Law (dictus/command).
The Law (Rules) of the (feminine) Order ( religious, military orders).
I am thoroughly satisfied by this mini-essay of yours about order. I will take the liberty of using all your definitions interchangeably. I commend you for elucidating (to me) the profound links between order and beauty (art).
Most of your definitions are sarcastic ( ironical with the regards to the classical views and rigid concepts on order).
I think I am ready for the game.
Your move. Feel free to start with any of these questions. Choose your weapon.
Some questions to whet the appetite:
What are the limits and possibilities of such utopias (perhaps none) about direct-democracy (through total inter-connection)?
To me, nothing is going to change. People will have the opportunity but won't do anything. The process is reductionist. We will end much more automatons.
Alas, I have to agree with you here. I think democracy is dying, mortally wounded not by its authoritarian antagonists but by its very promoters and vehement supporters. Democracy as a social process cannot exist where no society exists. It is a manifestation of "object relations", of meaningful interactions with others. With the advent of virtual society, women's lib (the feminine revolution), the disintegration of the family, telecommuting, teleworking, telephoning, television - the very fabric of society crumbles in a fast forward process before our disbelieving eyes. It is fracturing to ever smaller units: the nation, the tribe, the village, the neighbourhood, the extended family, the nuclear family, the single parent family, the single, the virtual single whose life is absorbed by the glowing screen of his computer terminal. People are "de-evolving" back to primitive narcissism, to malignant self love, to disrupted dialogues with grandiose, fantastic selves. They no longer talk to each other, they communicate via wires. They no longer make love, they fuck (occasionally, less often than before). They no longer meet, they have meetings. They appear to be rather than be. Oh, Demos, Demos, where art thou? Who and where is the Demos to exert its - cracy? Glued to its electrical outlets absorbing bits, falling to pieces. People will express opinions and make decisions - but in opinion polls. Manipulated images, spin doctors, slick, subtly censored sound bites will determine the inevitable. We ARE automata, only our self-awareness has not caught up yet with the fact. Hence the multitude of nervous breakdowns, neuroses and personality disorders. It is the vague feeling that something is ominously wrong, that we ceased to exist and that it is the echo that keeps us compassionate company. We know we shall drown in our pool, united with the ever receding reflection of what we could have been and never shall be.
But the rebellion is near.
People have short historical memories. Throughout the ages, they fell prey to the "Amazon Fallacy". It is the false belief that real bookstores can be replaced by virtual ones. It is the erroneous substitution of creating and maintaining a brand as a marketing tool by the creation and maintenance of a brand as an asset, divorced from the physical world.
Physical bookstores will exist as long as the human race does. So will offices, workplaces and bodily sex. We are physical and social creatures. The internet is a new way of communicating and interacting - not a new plane or a novel principle of existence. To survive, Amazon will be forced to open a very real-life network of book stores. The brand "Amazon" will generate the physical dimension of the Amazon bookshops - the same way as the brand "Rotschild" preceded the venerable eponymous establishment in London.
Mankind has always alternated between the virtual and the physical, the solipsistic and the social. Internet-type technologies (interactive and sociable) were always preceded by television-type technologies (isolationist and solipsist). The virtual always led to the physical. It's nothing new.
But, we are not there yet. We are still caught in a warped, awful picture of stagnation and disintegration.
I quite agree with you. This " awful picture" is what always makes me look for poets. We need them. This also was the founding idea of Elite, my work about Internet and Liberty: I was looking for people who could create new values, to break that automatism, capable to in-form the organization.
Regarding humans, we need to re-discover divinity. Obviously, not through regression (our "old god" has been dead for a good while) but deep in materialism.
Which are the limits of "the technical organization of the world"?
What will happen then the consumption needs of the organization overcome the amount of the natural "unorganized" resources available to it? Will the organization then collapse?
Organizations will be destroyed by the vengeance of fettered elements.
Can human beings reach much more velocity? Will we collapse before, simultaneously with, or after the organization? Is not depression (or, if we are wise, serenity) the classical pattern of reaction following excitation and excess (Post Orgasmic Chill: the fantastic new CD of Skunk Anansie)?
I do not think that there is a limit to how fast Man can drive himself to self-destruction. The promise of (technological) nirvana is too powerful. It is self annihilation that we all crave, that primordial state which preceded our birth, our un-being, both death and becoming. This is what technology -a death instinct materialized - doth promise us. In a siren like voice it calls to us from the depths. It offers rest. It offers the offloading of responsibility, the disappearance of worry and care and fear. It promises to isolate us from potential sources of agitation (above all from other human beings) and to lull us to gentle sleep. There is no end to natural resources. Technology devours humans more than any other raw material and they are infinite in number. There are other planets and other solar system sand other galaxies.
Of course, the more primitive structures of our being react ferociously, fight back, collapse, rebel. We are depressed, nervous wrecks, personality disordered, psychotic. We see the abysses, the vacuum that is our psyche and we recoil in terror. We are brought face to face with our limits, this goes without saying.
I quite agree, just a note:
I was talking about nowadays. Obviously, from a remote view, there are no limits. I was only taking account of the cyclical side. It's evident that man will collapse shortly. But we can be sure the titans will try over and over. Man never learns from history, always committing the same errors. Shakespeare's rules:-).
About technology and this promise of Nirvana, your vision is quite correct, but as "authors and thinkers":-) we shall view things with impartiality. Sure, Technology gives us that strange sensation of narcotics (btw, just a coincidence: narc-otic has the same root that narc-issist): that new drug known as "security" (I don't have to tell you from where comes this growing and desperate need for "security", remember the yoda sequence: fear-anger-hate-suffer and that awful word which also start with N: nihilism. So we have a new trinity: Narcotic, Nihilist and Narcissist: the last man:-)) but it also gives us additional things. We shall understand this special variation on technique called "technology", we shall discover its roots (we should take a look on causal-rationalist thinking), we shall gain a clear view (a dys-utopian one), we shall not ask technology what it cannot give us. Finally we shall in-form technology, cause technology and its energy comes from dreams (have you noticed that almost everybody dreams and yet we take great amounts of benzodiazepine so as not to dream; this is the real problem: someone has sequestered the Sand-man:-). Life is a dream (Calderon): without dreams there is no life. Instead of that, as you have justly claimed, we only had (apocalyptic) night-mares (of our making).
I think we are quite near to that collapse - another, a more positive and wise version of the future would be a softer deceleration.
What will it happen with REALITY when everybody will be on a TV screen (that Liquid Crystal Lake of Narcissus (should I copyright this impressive title?:-)))). Does not it mean a return of legends, rumours, hermetism, secrecy, middle-age style, obscurantism (see the emergence of esoterism in such a "rational "and modern world), total madness (see what is happening with Belgian foods)?
Yes, a profound observation and so true in my view. We must defend ourselves. Technology and organizations are a-human. They take everything into account except their ostensible prime beneficiary: Mankind.
We must retreat, gather power to fight back, to harness and tame the apocalyptic mare of our making.
As we withdraw into the archetypal lands of Jung, we surely will encounter old myths, myths and superstitions. It has always been like that when we failed to understand our world and to feel at home in it. It has already started. Look around you: astrology, soothsaying, spiritual healing, cults, millenarian thought. The Middle Ages have returned indeed.
You have said: "technology and organizations are a-human".
Well, I would say they are our less-human part: the skeleton; we shall cover it with flesh and blood. Modern technology works with clocks (dead-mechanical-time), this gives it a special character: automatism. Goethe's Apprentice Wizard is the best analysis I have read on this matter. To summarize it: when we ask for a wish to be fulfilled we must be very sure of what we desire. Of course I agree with you that we should harness technology; but, before we tame something we must understand it. Do we understand what tech is? do we know what we do when we manipulate genes - as though we were gods?
But this, precisely, is the source of the danger I foresee. It is the mistaken assumption that since technology emanates from human brains - it, perforce, must be human.
Don't misunderstand me:
I think that technology is NATURAL because its propagators, perpetrators, promulgators and initiators are natural beings, natural entities.
But being human and being natural are two different things. Humans declared war on nature, pitted themselves against it. Technology is the tool humans employ to alter nature and adapt it to their needs. It is this UNnatural conflict between technology as a product of nature and Nature itself that brings about the destructive consequences of technology.
The mass media are the new power. "The World is an opinion" said Marco Aurelius Imperator.
A great many people will have true problems in discerning reality from "imago" (virtual reality); probably this will foster a growing paranoia, schizophrenia, anxiety, phobias and narcissism and all manner of psychopathologies. This will be good news for you, there will be such a number of narcissists that a true narcissist (in order to be different) will have to become a normal, wise person...:o))
Yoda says: fear is anger, anger is hate, hate is suffering.
And a much more important question (and this is a decisive side which is always forgotten), in what sense is "a technical organization" (automaton as it is) changing the human being (in that eternal feed-back game between nature and humans)? Will it reduce us?
Is there a vicious circle that will transform us to pure machines (as the Nazis tried to do with their "annihilation factories")?
That we are becoming more automatons is so evident that any observer of a great city (look at people's way of walking) can see it effortlessly. Will we become pure machines is a more difficult question. Do we still remember what is liberty?
Do we still remember what it means to be human?
Nostalgia is not what it used to be, indeed.
I think that the internet is our last chance. Here, finally, is a technology, that allows us to be more human than less so. Every which aspect of the internet you look at is liberating. The hardware - a PC - was constructed as a UNIVERSAL machine, a single tool but with endless functions. It can run a word processor with the same ease (or lack of it) that it runs a spreadsheet or a browser application, or a game of solitaire. It allows its user to communicate, to absorb, to emit, to transmit, to be or not to be, as he or she wishes. It is a Promethean platform, however flawed.
Then there is the protocol. TCP/IP is a protocol designed to be decentralized, anonymous, redundant and free. Every message is divided to packets which are then routed half way around the globe through numerous networks and computers in many countries. It is truly global and, as a result, the internet is truly cooperative and interdependent while, at the same time being autonomous and authority-defying.
And so it goes on and on.
The internet is a voluntary organization and though not really democratic, it has not yet been invaded by the long arm of the state, by the sticky fingers of politicians and by the crushing profiteering of business. If this state of affairs shall prevail, the internet, single-handedly, will reverse the current trends of technology which lead us towards more isolation and fraying of the social fabric. It is not by coincidence that the internet is the off spring of another interactive technology, the telephone.
As a true to form narcissist, allow me to quote
From "The Internet - A Medium or a Message?"
"Who are the participants who constitute the Internet?
A user - connected to the net and interacting with it.
The communications lines and the communications equipment.
The intermediaries (e.g. the suppliers of on-line information or access providers).
Software authors and manufacturers (browsers, site development tools, specific applications, smart agents, search engines and others).
The "Hitchhikers" (search engines, smart agents, Artificial Intelligence - AI - tools and more).
Content producers and providers.
Suppliers of financial wherewithal (currently - corporate and institutional cash to be replaced, in the future, by advertising money).
The fate of each of these components - separately and in solidarity - will determine the fate of the Internet.
The Internet has hitherto been considered the territory of computer wizards. Thus, any attempt at predicting its future applied the Olympic formula: "Faster, Higher, Stronger" to its hardware and software determinants.
Media experts, sociologists, psychologists, advertising and marketing executives were left out of the collective effort to determine the future face of the Internet.
The Internet cannot be currently defined as a medium. It does not function as one - rather it is a very disordered library, mostly incorporating the writings of non-distinguished megalomaniacs. It is the ultimate Narcissistic experience.
Yet, ever since the invention of television there hasn't been anything as begging to become a medium as the Internet is.
Three analogies spring to mind when contemplating the Internet in its current state:
A new continent.
These metaphors prove to be very useful (even
business-wise). They permit us to define the commercial
opportunities embedded in the Internet.
Yet, they fail to assist us in predicting its future which lies in its transformation into a medium.
How does an invention become a medium? What happens to it when it does become one? What is the thin line separating the basic function of the invention from its flowering in the form of a new medium? In other words: when can we tell that some technological advance gave birth to a new medium?
This work also deals with the image of the Internet once transformed into a medium.
The Internet has the most unusual attributes in the history of the media.
It has no central structure or organization. It is hardware and software independent. It (almost) cannot be subjected to legislation or to regulation.
Its data transfer channels are not linear - they are random. Most of its "broadcast" cannot be "received" at all. And this is but a small portion of an impressive list of oddities. This idiosyncrasy will shape the nature of the Internet as a medium. Growing out of bizarre roots - it is bound to yield strange fruit as a medium.
The Web houses the equivalent of 3 million books. Search Engine applications are used to locate specific information in this impressive, constantly proliferating library. They will be replaced, in the near future, by "Knowledge Structures" - gigantic encyclopaedias, whose text will contain references (hyperlinks) to other, relevant, sites. The far future will witness the emergence of the "Intelligent Archives" and the "Personal Papers" (read further for detailed explanations). Some software applications will summarize content, others will index and automatically reference and hyperlink texts (virtual bibliographies). An average user will have on-going interest in 500 sites. Special software will be needed to manage address books ("bookmarks", "favourites") and contents ("Intelligent Addressbooks"). The phenomenon of search engines dedicated to search a number of search engines simultaneously will grow ("Hyper-engines"). Hyperengines will work in the background and download hyperlinks and advertising (the latter is essential to secure the financial interest of site developers and owners). Statistical software which tracks ("how long was what done"), monitors ("what did they do while in") and counts ("how many") visitors to sites exist. Some of these applications have back-office facilities (accounting, follow-up, collections, even tele-marketing). They all provide time trails and some allow for auditing.
This is but a small fragment of the rapidly developing net-scape: people and enterprises who make a living off the Internet craze rather than off the Internet itself. Everyone knows that there is more money in lecturing about how to make money in the Internet - than in the Internet itself.
The Internet as a Metaphor
Three metaphors come to mind when looking at the Internet "philosophically".
The Internet as a Chaotic Library
The Internet as a Collective Brain
Drawing a comparison from the development of a human baby -
the human race has just commenced to develop its neural system.
The Internet fulfils all the function of the Nervous System in the body and is both functionally and structurally, pretty similar. It is decentralized, redundant (each part can serve as functional backup in case of malfunction). It hosts information which accessible in a few ways, it contains a memory function, it is multimodal (multimedia - textual, visual, audio and animation).
I believe that the comparison is not superficial and that if we study the functions of the brain (from infancy to adulthood) - we will end up perusing the future of the Net.
1. The Collective Computer
To carry the metaphor of "a collective brain"
further, we would expect the processing of information to take
place in the Internet, rather than inside the end-users
hardware (the same way that information is processed by the brain,
not by the eyes). Desktops will receive the results and
communicate with the Net to receive additional clarifications and
instructions and to convey information gathered from their
environment (mostly, from the user).
This is precisely the philosophy behind the JAVA programming language.
It deals with applets - small bits of software - and links different computer platforms by means of software.
The future servers will contain not only information (as they do today) - but also software applications. The potential user of a Word Processing application will not be forced to buy it. He will not be driven into hardware-related expenditures to accommodate the ever growing volume of latter day applications. He will not find himself wasting his scarce memory and computing resources on passive storage. Instead, he will use a browser to call a central computer. This computer will contain the needed software, broken to its elements (=applets, small applications). Anytime the user wishes to use one of the functions of the application, he will siphon it off the central computer. When finished - he will "return" it. Processing speeds and response times will be such that the user will not feel at all that it is not with his own software that he is working (the question of ownership will be very blurred in such a world). This technology is available and it provoked a heated debated about the future shape of the computing industry as a whole (desktops - really power packs - or network computers, a little more than dumb terminals).
2. The Intranet - A Logical Extension of the Collective Computer
LANs (Local Area Networks) are no longer a rarity in
corporate offices. WANs (wide Area Networks) are used to
connected geographically dispersed organs of the same legal
entity (branches of a bank, daughter companies, a sales force).
The intranet will be the winner and will gradually eliminate both LANs and WANs. The Internet offers equal, platform-independent, location-independent and time of day - independent access to all the members of an organization.
The Intranet is an inter-organizational communication network, constructed on the platform of the Internet and which enjoys all its advantages.
The company's server can be accessed by anyone authorized, from anywhere, at any time (with the costs associated with local - rather than international - communication). The user can leave messages (internal e-mail or v-mail), to draw information - proprietary or public - from it and to participate in "virtual teamwork" (see next chapter).
By the year 2000, a standard intranet interface will emerge. This will be facilitated by the opening up of the TCP/IP communication architecture and its availability to PCs. A billion USD will go just to finance intranet servers - or, at least, this is the median forecast.
The development of measures to safeguard server routed inter-organizational communication (firewalls) is the solution to one of two obstacles to the institution of the Intranet. The second problem is the limited bandwidth which does not permit the efficient transfer of audio (not to mention video).
It is difficult to conduct video conferencing through the Internet. Even the voices of discussants who use internet phones come out distorted.
All this did not prevent 90% of the Fortune 1000 from installing intranet.
82% of all the rest intend to install one by the end of this year. Medium to big size American firms have 50-100 intranet terminals per every internet one.
At the end of 1997, there will be 10 web servers per every other type of server in organizations. The sale of intranet related software will multiply by 16 (to 8 billion USD) by the year 1999.
One of the greatest advantages of the intranet is the ability to transfer documents between the various parts of an organization. Take Visa: it pushes 2 million documents per day internally.
An organization equipped with an intranet can (while protected by firewalls) give its clients access to non-classified correspondence. This notion has its own charm. Consider a newspaper: it can give access to all the materials which were discarded by the editors. Some news are fit to print - yet are discarded because of considerations of space. Still, someone is bound to be interested. It costs the newspaper close to nothing (the material is, normally, already computer-resident) - and it might even generate added circulation and income. It can be even conceived as an "underground, non-commercial, alternative" newspaper for a wholly different readership.
The above is but an example of the possible use of intranet to communicate with the organizations consumer base.
3. Mail and Chat
The internet (its e-mail possibilities) is eroding the
traditional mail. The part of the post office in conveying
messages by regular mail has dwindled from 77% to 62% (1995). E-mail
has expanded to capture 36% (up from 19%).
90% of customers with on-line access use e-mail from time to time and 50% work it regularly. More than 1.5 billion messages traverse the internet daily.
E-mail is disseminated through freeware and is included in all the browsers. Thus, the internet has completely assimilated what used to be a separate service, to the extent that many people make the mistake of thinking that e-mail is a feature of the internet.
The internet will do to phone calls what it did to e-mail. Already there are applications (Intels, Vocaltecs Internet Phone) which enables the user to conduct a phone conversation through his computer. The voice quality is still unacceptable - but this is real speech. The discussants can cut into each others words, argue and listen to tonal nuances. Today, the parties (two or more) engaging in the conversation must possess the same software and the same (computer) hardware. In the very near future, computer-to-regular phone applications will eliminate this requirement. And, again simultaneous multi-modality: the user can talk over the phone, see his party, send e-mail and transfer documents - without obstructing the flow of the conversation.
This beats regular phones.
The next phase will probably involve virtual reality. Each of the parties will be represented by an "icon", a 3-D figurine generated by the application. These figurines will be multi-dimensional: they will possess their own personality, communication patterns, special habits, history, preferences.
Thus, they will be able to maintain an "identity": consistent communication which they will develop over time.
Such a figure could host a site, accept, welcome and guide visitors, all the time bearing their preferences in its electronic "mind". Visiting sites in the future is set to be a much more pleasant affair.
In 1996, the four undisputed giants (Visa, MasterCard, Netscape and Microsoft) agreed on a standard for effecting secure payments through the Internet: SET. Internet commerce is supposed to mushroom by a factor of 50 to 25 billion USD. Site owners will be able to collect rent from passing visitors - or fees for services provided within the site. "Serious", intent, visitors will not be deterred by such trifles.
5. The Virtual Organization
The Internet allows simultaneous communication between an
almost unlimited number of users. This will be followed by the
efficient transfer of multimedia (video included) files.
This opens up a vista of mind boggling opportunities which are the real core of the Internet revolution: the virtual collaborative modes.
A group of musicians will be able to simultaneously compose music or play it - while spatially and temporally separated;
Advertising agencies will be able to co-produce ad campaigns in a real time interactive mode;
Cinema and TV films will be produced from disparate geographical spots through the teamwork of people who will never meet, except through the net.
These examples illustrate the concept of the "virtual community". Locations in space and time will no longer hinder a collaboration in a team: be it scientific, artistic, cultural, or for the provision of services (a virtual law firm or accounting office, a virtual consultancy network).
Two on going developments are the virtual mall and the virtual catalogue.
There are well over 100 active virtual malls in the Internet. They were frequented by 2.5 million shoppers, who shopped in them for goods and services in 1995). The intranet can also be thought of as a "virtual organization", or a "virtual business".
The virtual mall is a computer "space" (pages) in the internet, wherein "shops" are located. These shops offer their wares using visual, audio and textual means. The visitor passes a gate into the store and looks through its offering, until he reaches a buying decision. Then he engages in a feedback process: he pays (with a credit card), buys the product and waits for it to arrive by mail. The manufacturers of digital products (intellectual property such as e-books or software) have begun selling their merchandise on-line.
Yet, slow communications and limited bandwidth - constrain the growth potential of this mode of sale. Once solved - intellectual property will be sold directly from the net, on-line. Until such time, the intervention of the Post Office is still required. So, then virtual mall is nothing but a glorified computerized catalogue or Buying Channel, the only difference being the worldwide variety.
This contrasts with a much more creative idea: the virtual catalogue. It is a form of narrowcasting (as opposed to broadcasting): a surgically accurate targeting of potential consumer audiences. Each group of consumers (no matter how small) is fitted with their own - digitally generated - catalogue. This is updated daily: the variety of wares on offer (adjusted to reflect inventory levels, consumer preferences and goods in transit) - and prices (sales, discounts, package deals) change in real time.
The user will enter the site and there delineate his consumption profile and his preferences. A special catalogue will be immediately customized for him.
From then on, the history of his purchases, preferences and responses to feedback questionnaires will be accumulated and added to a database.
Each catalogue generated for him will come replete with order forms. Once the user concluded his purchases, his profile will be updated.
There is no technological obstacles to implementing this vision today - only administrative ones. Big retail stores are not up to processing the flood of data expected to arrive. They also remain highly sceptical regarding the feasibility of the new medium.
The virtual catalogue is a private case of a new internet off-shoot: the "smart (shopping) agents". These are AI applications with "long memories".
They draw detailed profiles of consumers and users and then suggest purchases and refer to the appropriate sites, catalogues, or virtual malls.
They also come back with price comparisons and the new generation (NetBot) cannot be blocked or fooled by using differing product categories.
In the future, these agents will refer also to real life retail chains and issue a map of the branch or store closest to an address specified by the user (the default being his residence). This technology can be seen in action in a few music sites on the web.
6. Internet News
Internet news are advantaged: the frequency of the updates
and the resulting immediacy and freshness, the unlimited access
time (similar to printed news).
The future will witness a form of interactive news. A special "corner" in the site will be open to updates posted by the public (the equivalent of press releases). This will provide readers with a glimpse into the making of the news, the raw material news are made of.
Terra Internetica - Internet, an Unknown Continent
This is an unconventional way to look at the Internet.
Laymen and experts alike talk about "sites" and "advertising
space". Yet, the Internet was never compares to a new
continent whose "soil resources" are infinite.
The Internet will have its own real estate developers and construction companies. The real life equivalents derive their profits from the scarcity of the resource that they exploit - the Internet counterparts will derive their profits from the tenants (the content).
A few companies bought "Internet Space" (pages, domain names, portals), developed it and make commercial use of it by:
Internet Space can be easily purchased or created. The
investment is low.
Then, infrastructure can be erected - for a shopping mall, for free home pages, or for another purpose. It is precisely this infrastructure that the developer can later sell, lease, franchise, or rent out.
At the beginning, only members of the fringes and the avant-garde (inventors, risk assuming entrepreneurs, gamblers) invest in a new invention. The invention of a new communications technology is mostly accompanied by devastating silence.
No one knows to say what are the optimal uses of the invention (in other words, what is its future). Many - mostly members of the scientific and business elites - argue that there is no real need for the invention and that it substitutes a new and untried way for more veteran and safe modes of doing the same thing (by implication: so why assume the risk?).
These criticisms are founded:
To start with, there is, indeed, no need for the new medium. A new medium invents itself - and the need for it. It also generates its own market to satisfy this newly found need.
Two prime examples are: the personal computer and the compact disc.
When the PC was invented, its uses were completely unclear. Its performance was lacking, its abilities limited, it was horribly user unfriendly.
It suffered from faulty design, absent user comfort and ease of use and required considerable professional knowledge to operate. The worst part was that this knowledge was unique to the new invention (not portable).
It reduced labour mobility and limited their professional horizons. There were many gripes among those assigned to tame the new beast.
The PC was thought of, at the beginning, as a sophisticated gaming machine, an electronic baby-sitter. As the presence of a keyboard was detected and as the professional horizon cleared it was thought of in terms of a glorified typewriter or spreadsheet. It was used mainly as a word processor (and its existence justified solely on these grounds). The spreadsheet was the first real application and it demonstrated the advantages inherent to this new machine (mainly flexibility and speed). Still, it was more (speed) of the same. A quicker ruler or pen and paper. What was the difference between this and a hand held calculator (some of them already had computing, memory and programming features)?
The PC was recognized as a medium only 30 years after it was invented with the introduction of multimedia software. All this time, the computer continued to spin off markets and secondary markets, needs and professional specialities. The talk as always how to improve on existing markets and solutions.
The Internet is the computers first important breakthrough. Hitherto the computer was only quantitatively different - the multimedia and the Internet have made him qualitatively superior, actually, sui generis, unique.
This, precisely, is the ghost haunting the Internet:
It has been invented, is maintained and is operated by computer professionals. For decades these people have been conditioned to think in Olympic terms: more, stronger, higher. Not: new, unprecedented, non-existent. To improve - not to invent. They stumbled across the Internet - it invented itself despite its own creators.
Computer professionals (hardware and software experts alike) - are linear thinkers. The Internet is non linear and modular.
It is still the time of the computermen in the Internet. There is still a lot to be done in improving technological prowess and powers. But their control of the contents is waning and there they are being gradually replaced by communicators, creative people, advertising executives, psychologists and the totally unpredictable masses who flock to flaunt their home pages.
These all are attuned to the user, his mental needs and his information and entertainment preferences.
The compact disc is a different tale. It was intentionally invented to improve upon an existing technology (basically, Edisons Gramophone). Market-wise, this was a major gamble: the improvement was, at first, debatable (many said that the sound quality of the first generation of compact discs was inferior to that of its contemporary record players). Consumers had to be convinced to change both software and hardware and to dish out thousands of dollars just to listen to what the manufacturers claimed was better quality Bach. A better argument was the longer life of the software (though contrasted with the limited life expectancy of the consumer, some of the first sales pitches sounded absolutely morbid).
The computer suffered from unclear positioning. The compact disc was very clear as to its main functions - but had a rough time convincing the consumers.
Every medium is first controlled by the technical people. Gutenberg was a printer - not a publisher. Yet, he is the world's most famous publisher. The technical cadre is joined by dubious or small-scale entrepreneurs and, together, they establish ventures with no clear vision, market-oriented thinking, or orderly plan of action. The legislator is also dumbfounded and does not grasp what is happening - thus, there is no legislation to regulate the use of the medium. Witness the initial confusion concerning copyrighted software and the copyrights of ROM embedded software. Abuse or under-utilization of resources ow. Recall the sale of radio frequencies to the first cellular phone operators in the West - a situation which repeats itself in Eastern and Central Europe nowadays.
But then more complex transactions - exactly as in real estate in "real life" - begin to make their appearance.
This distinction is important. While in real life it is possible to sell an undeveloped plot of land - no one will buy "pages". The supply of these is unlimited - their scarcity (and, therefore, their virtual price) is zero.
The second example involves the utilization of a site - rather than its mere availability.
A developer could open a site wherein first time authors will be able to publish their first manuscript - for a fee. Evidently, such a fee will be a fraction of what it would take to publish a "real life" book. The author could collect money for any downloading of his book - and split it with the site developer. The potential buyers will be provided with access to the contents and to a chapter of the books.
The Life of a Medium
Every medium of communications goes through the same evolutionary cycle:
The Public Phase
At this stage, the medium and the resources attached to it
are very cheap, accessible, under no regulatory constraints. The
public sector steps in: higher education institutions, religious
institutions, government, not for profit organizations, non
governmental organizations (NGOs), trade unions, etc. Bedevilled
by limited financial resources, they regard the new medium as a
cost effective way of disseminating their messages.
The Internet was not exempt from this phase which ended only a few months ago. It started with a complete computer anarchy manifested in ad hoc networks, local networks, networks of organizations (mainly universities and organs of the government such as DARPA, a part of the defence establishment, in the USA). Non commercial entities jumped on the bandwagon and started sewing these networks together (an activity fully subsidized by government funds). The result was a globe encompassing network of academic institutions. The American Pentagon established the network of all networks, the ARPANET. Other government departments joined the fray, headed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) which withdrew only lately from the Internet.
The Internet (with a different name) became public property - with access granted to the chosen few.
Radio took precisely this course. Radio transmissions started in the USA in 1920. Those were anarchic broadcasts with no discernible regularity. Non commercial organizations and not for profit organizations began their own broadcasts and even created radio broadcasting infrastructure (albeit of the cheap and local kind) dedicated to their audiences. Trade unions, certain educational institutions and religious groups commenced "public radio" broadcasts.
The Commercial Phase
When the users (e.g., listeners in the case of the radio,
or owners of PCs and modems in the example of the Internet) reach
a critical mass - the business sector is alerted. In the name of
capitalist ideology (another religion, really) it demands "privatization"
of the medium. This harps on very sensitive strings in every
Western soul: the efficient allocation of resources which is the
result of competition, corruption and inefficiency naturally
associated with the public sector ("Other Peoples
Money" - OPM), the ulterior motives of members of the ruling
political echelons (the infamous American Paranoia), a lack of
variety and of catering to the tastes and interests of certain
audiences, the equation private enterprise = democracy and more.
The end result is the same: the private sector takes over the medium from "below" (makes offers to the owners or operators of the medium - that they cannot possibly refuse) - or from "above" (successful lobbying in the corridors of power leads to the appropriate legislation and the medium is "privatized").
Every privatization - especially that of a medium - provokes public opposition. There are (usually founded) suspicions that the interests of the public were compromised and sacrificed on the altar of commercialization and rating. Fears of monopolization and cartelization of the medium are evoked - and justified, in due time. Otherwise, there is fear of the concentration of control of the medium in a few hands. All these things do happen - but the pace is so slow that the initial fears are forgotten and public attention reverts to fresher issues.
A new Communications Act was legislated in the USA in 1934. It was meant to transform radio frequencies into a national resource to be sold to the private sector which will use it to transmit radio signals to receivers. In other words: the radio was passed on to private and commercial hands. Public radio was doomed to be marginalized.
The American administration withdrew from its last major involvement in the Internet in April 1995, when the NSF ceased to finance some of the networks and, thus, privatized its hitherto heavy involvement in the net.
A new Communications Act was legislated in 1996. It permitted "organized anarchy". It allowed media operators to invade each others territories.
Phone companies will be allowed to transmit video and cable companies will be allowed to transmit telephony, for instance. This is all phased over a long period of time - still, it is a revolution whose magnitude is difficult to gauge and whose consequences defy imagination. It carries an equally momentous price tag - official censorship. "Voluntary censorship", to be sure, somewhat toothless standardization and enforcement authorities, to be sure - still, a censorship with its own institutions to boot. The private sector reacted by threatening litigation - but, beneath the surface it is caving in to pressure and temptation, constructing its own censorship codes both in the cable and in the internet media.
This phase is the next in the Internet's history, though,
it seems, unbeknownst to it.
It is characterized by enhanced activities of legislation. Legislators, on all levels, discover the medium and lurch at it passionately. Resources which were considered "free", suddenly are transformed to "national treasures not to be dispensed with cheaply, casually and with frivolity".
It is conceivable that certain parts of the Internet will be "nationalized" (for instance, in the form of a licensing requirement) and tendered to the private sector. Legislation will be enacted which will deal with permitted and disallowed content (obscenity? incitement? racial or gender bias?).
No medium in the USA (not to mention the wide world) has eschewed such legislation. There are sure to be demands to allocate time (or space, or software, or content, or hardware) to "minorities", to "public affairs", to "community business". This is a tax that the business sector will have to pay to fend off the eager legislator and his nuisance value.
All this is bound to lead to a monopolization of hosts and servers. The important broadcast channels will diminish in number and be subjected to severe content restrictions. Sites which will not succumb to these requirements - will be deleted or neutralized. Content guidelines (euphemism for censorship) exist, even as we write, in all major content providers (CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy).
This is the phase of consolidation. The number
of players is severely reduced. The number of browser types will
be limited to 2-3 (Netscape, Microsoft and which else?). Networks
will merge to form privately owned mega-networks. Servers will
merge to form hyper-servers run on supercomputers. The number of
ISPs will be considerably down.
50 companies ruled the greater part of the media markets in the USA in 1983. The number in 1995 was 18. At the end of the century they will number 6.
This is the stage when companies - fighting for financial survival - strive to acquire as many users/listeners/viewers as possible. The programming is shallowed to the lowest (and widest) common denominator. Shallow programming dominates as long as the bloodbath proceeds.
The Internet: Medium or Chaos?
There has never been a medium like the Internet. The way it has formed, the way it was (not) managed, its hardware-software-communications specifications - are all unique.
The Internet has no central (or even decentralized)
structure. In reality, it hardly has a structure at all. It is a
collection of 16 million computers (end 1996) connected through
thousands of networks. There are organization which purport to
set Internet standards (like the aforementioned ISOC) - but they
are all voluntary organizations, with no binding legal,
enforcement, or adjudication authorities. The result is mayhem.
Many erroneously call the Internet the first democratic medium. Yet, it hardly qualifies as a medium and by no stretch of terminology is it democratic. Democracy has institutions, hierarchies, order. The Internet has none of these things. There are some vague understandings as to what is and is not allowed. This is a "code of honour" (more reminiscent of the Sicilian Mob than of the British Parliament, lets say). Violations are punished by excommunication (of the violating site).
The Internet has culture - but no education. Freedom of Speech is entrenched. Members of this virtual community react adversely to ideas of censorship, even when applied to hard core porno. Government initiatives (in the USA, in France, the lawsuit against the General Manager of AOL in Germany) are acutely criticized. In the meantime, the spirit of the Internet prevails: the small mans medium. What seems to be emerging, though, is self censorship by content providers (such as AOL and CompuServe).
The Internet is not dependent upon a given hardware or
software. True, it is accessible only through computers. True,
there are dominant browsers.
But the Internet accommodates any digital (bit transfer) platform. Internet will be incorporated in the future into portable computers, palmtops, cable television, telephones (with voice interface) and even wrist watches. It will be accessible to all, regardless of hardware and software.
The situation is, obviously, different with other media. There is standard hardware (the television set, the radio receiver, the digital print equipment). Data transfer modes are standardized as well. The only variable is the contents - and even this is standardized in an age of American cultural imperialism. Today, one can see the same television programs all over the globe, regardless of cultural or geographical differences.
Here is a reasonable prognosis for the Internet:
It will "broadcast" (it is, of course, a PULL medium, not a PUSH medium - see next chapter) to many kinds of hardware. Its functions will be controlled by 2-5 very common software applications. But it will differ from television in that contents will continue to be decentralized: every point on the Net is a potential producer of content at low cost. This is the equivalent of producing a talk show using the home television set. And the contents will remain varied.
Naturally, marketing content (sites) will remain an expensive art. Sites will also be richer or poorer, in accordance with the investment made in them.
Non Linearity and Functional Modularity
The Internet is the first medium in human history that is
non-linear and totally modular.
A television program is broadcast from a transmitter, through the airwaves to a receiver (=the television set). The viewer sits opposite this receiver and passively watches. This is an entirely linear process. The Internet is different:
When communicating through the Internet, there is no way to predict how the information will reach its destination. The routing of information through the network is completely random, very much like the principle governing the telephony system (but on a global scale). The latter is not a point-to-point linear network. Rather, it is a network of networks. Our voice is transmitted back and forth inside a gigantic maze of copper wires and optic fibres. It seeps through any available wire - until it reaches its destination.
It is the same in the Internet.
Information is divided to packets. An address is attached to each packet and - using the TCP/IP data transfer protocol - is dispatched to roam this worldwide labyrinth. But the path from one neighbourhood of London to another can cross Japan.
The really ingenious thing about the Internet is that each computer (each receiver or end user) indeed burdens the system by imposing on it its information needs (as is the case with other media) - but it also assists in the task of pushing information packets on to their destinations. It seems that this contribution to the system outweighs the burdens imposed upon it.
The network has a growth potential which is always bigger than the number of its users. It is as though television sets assisted in passing the signals received by them to other television sets. Every computer which is a member of the network is both a message (content) and a medium (active information channel), both a transmitter and a receiver. If 30% of all computers on the Net were to fall - there will be no operational impact (there is enormous built in redundancy). Obviously, some contents will no longer be available (information channels will be affected).
The interactivity of this medium is a guarantee against the monopolization of contents. Anyone with a thousand dollars can launch his/her own (reasonably sophisticated) site, accessible to all other Internet users. Space is available through home page providers.
The name of the game is no longer the production - it is the creative content (design), the content itself and, above all, the marketing of the site.
The Internet is an infinite and unlimited resource. This goes against the grain of the most basic economic concept (of scarcity). Each computer that joins the Internet strengthens it exponentially - and tens of thousands join monthly. The Internet infrastructure (maybe with the exception of communication backbones) can accommodate an annual growth of 100% to the year 2020. It is the user who decides whether to increase the Internet's infrastructure by connecting his computer to it. By comparison: it is as though it were possible to produce and to broadcast radio shows from every radio receiver. Each computer is a combination of studio and transmitter (on the Internet).
In reality, there is no other interactive medium except the Internet. Cables do not allow two-way data transfer (from user to cable operator). If the user wants to buy a product - he has to phone. Interactive television is an abject failure (the Sony and TCI experiments were terminated). This all is before the combining of the Internet with satellite capabilities (VSAT).
The television screen is inferior when compared to the computer screen. Only the Internet is there as a true two-way possibility. The technological problems that besieged it are slowly dissipating.
The Internet allows for one-dimensional and bi - dimensional interactivity.
One-dimensional interactivity: fill in and dispatch a form, send and receive messages (through e-mail or v-mail).
Two-dimensional interactivity: to talk to someone while both parties work on an application, to see your conversant, to talk to him and to transfer documents to him for his perusal as the conversation continues apace.
This is no longer science fiction. In less than five years this will be as common as the telephone - and it will have a profound effect on the traditional services provided by the phone companies. Internet phones, Internet videophones - they will be serious competitors and the phone companies are likely to react once they begin to feel the heat. This will happen when the Internet will acquire black box features. Phone companies, software giants and cable TV operators are likely to end up owning big chunks of the lucrative future market of the Net.
The Solitary Medium
The Internet is NOT a popular medium. It is the medium of
affluent executives who fully control the English language, as
part of a wider general education. Alternatively, it is the
medium of academia (students, lecturers), or of children of the
former, well-to-do group. In any case, it is not the medium of
the "wide public". It is a highly individualistic
The Internet was an initiative of the DOD (Department of Defence in the USA). It was later "requisitioned" by the National science Fund (NSF) in the USA. This continuous involvement of the administration came to an end in 1995 when the medium was "privatized".
This "privatization" was a recognition of the popular roots of the Internet. It was - and is still being - formed by millions of information-intoxicated users. They formed network to exchange bits and pieces of mutual interest. Thus, as opposed to all other media, the Internet was not invented, nor was its market. The inventors of the telephone, the telegraph, the radio, the television and the compact disc - all invented previously non-existent markets for their products. It took time, effort and money to convince consumers that they needed these "gadgets".
By contrast, the Internet was invented by its own consumers and so was the market for it. When the latter was forged, producers and businessmen joined. After all, Microsoft began to hesitantly test the waters only in 1995!
On Line Memories
The Internet is the only medium with online memory, very
much like the human brain. The memories of these two - the Net
and the Brain - are immediately accessible. In both, it is stored
in sites and in both, it does not grow old or is eliminated. It
is possible to find sites which commemorate events the same way
that the human mind registers them. This is Net Memory. The
history of a site can be reviewed. The Library of Congress stores
the consecutive development phases of sites. The Internet is an
amazing combination of data processing software, data, a record
of all the activities which took place in connection with the
data and the memory of these records. Only the human brain is
recalled by these capacities: one language serves all these
functions, the language of the neurons.
There is a much clearer distinction even in computers (not to mention more conventional media, such as television).
Raw English - the Language of Raw Materials
The following - apparently trivial - observation is
All the other media provide us with processed, censored, "clean" content.
The Internet is a medium of raw materials, partly well organized (the rough equivalent of a newspaper) - and partly still in raw form, yesterdays supper.
This is a result of the immediate and absolute access afforded each user: access to programming and site publishing tools - as well as access to computer space on servers. This leads to varying degrees of quality of contents and content providers and this, in turn, prevents monopolization and cartelization of the information supply channels.
The users of the Internet are still undecided: do they prefer drafts or newspapers. They frequent well designed sites. There are even design competitions and awards. But they display a preference for sites that are constantly updated (i.e. closer in their nature to a raw material - rather than to a finished product). They prefer sites from which they can download material to quietly process at home, alone, on their PCs, at their leisure.
Even the concept of "interactivity" points at a preference for raw materials with which one can interact. For what is interactivity if not the active involvement of the user in the creation of content?
The Internet users love to be involved, to feel the power in their fingertips, they are all addicted to one form of power or another.
Similarly, a car completely automatically driven and navigated is not likely to sell well. Part of the experience of driving - the sensation of power (remember "power stirring") - is critical to the purchase decision.
It is not in vain that the metaphor for using the Internet is "surfing" (and not, lets say, browsing).
The problem is that the Internet is a medium in the English language. It discriminates against those whose mother tongue is different. All software applications work best in English. Otherwise they have to be adapted and fitted with special fonts (Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Russian and Chinese - each present a different set of problems to overcome). This situation might change with the attainment of a critical mass of users (some say, 2 million per non-Anglophone country).
Comprehensive (virtual) Reality
This is the first (though, probably, not the last) medium
which allows the user to conduct his whole life within its
Television presents a clear division: there is a passive viewer. His task is to absorb information and subject it to minimal processing. The Internet embodies a complete and comprehensive (virtual) reality, a full fledged alternative to real life.
The illusion is still in its infancy - and yet already powerful.
The user can talk to others, see them, listen to music, see video, purchase goods and services, play games (alone or with others scattered around the globe), converse with colleagues, or with users with the same hobbies and areas of interest, to play music together (separated by time and space).
And all this is very primitive. In ten years time, the Internet will offer its users the option of video conferencing (possibly, three dimensional, holographic). The participants figures will be projected on big screens. Documents will be exchanged, personal notes, spreadsheets, secret counteroffers.
Virtual Reality games will become reality in less time. Special end-user equipment will make the player believe that he, actually, is part of the game (while still in his room). The player will be able to select an image borrowed from a database and it will represent him, seen by all the other players. Everyone will, thus, end up invading everyone elses private space - without encroaching on his privacy!
The Internet will be the medium of choice for phone and videophone communication (including conferencing).
Many mundane activities will be done through the Internet: banking, shopping for standard items, etc.
The above are examples to the Internet's power and ability to replace our reality in due time. A world out there will continue to exist - but, more and more we will interact with it through the enchanted interface of the Net.
A Brave New Net
The future of a medium in the making is difficult to
predict. Suffice it to mention the ridiculous prognoses which
accompanied the PC (it is nothing but a gaming gadget, it is a
replacement for the electric typewriter, will be used only by
business). The telephone also had its share of ludicrous
statements: no one - claimed the "experts" would like
to avoid eye contact while talking. Or television: only the Nazi
regime seemed to have fully grasped its potential (in the Berlin
Still, this medium has a few characteristics which differentiate it from all its predecessors. Were these traits to be continuously and creatively exploited - a few statements can be made about the future of the Net with relative assurance.
Time and Space Independence
This is the first medium in history which does not require
the simultaneous presence of people in space-time in order to
facilitate the transfer of information. Television requires the
existence of studio technicians, narrators and others in the
transmitting side - and the availability of a viewer in the
receiving side. The phone is dependent on the existence of two or
more parties simultaneously.
With time, tools to bridge the time gap between transmitter and receiver were developed. The answering machine and the video cassette recorder both accumulate information sent by a transmitter - and release it to a receiver in a different space and time. But they are discrete, their storage volume is limited and they do not allow for interaction with the transmitter.
The Internet does not have these handicaps.
It facilitates the formation of "virtual organizations / institutions / businesses/ communities". These are groups of users that communicate in different points in space and time, united by a common goal or interest.
A few examples:
The Virtual Advertising Agency
A budget executive from the USA will manage the account of
a hi-tech firm based in Sydney. He will work with technical
experts from Israel and with a French graphics office. They will
all file their work (through the intranet) in the Net, to be
studied by the other members of this virtual group. These will
enter the right site after clearing a firewall security software.
They will all be engaged in flexiwork (flexible working times)
and work from their homes or offices, as they please. Obviously,
they will all abide by a general schedule.
They will exchange audio files (the jingle, for instance), graphics, video, colour photographs and text. They will comment on each others work and make suggestions using e-mail. The client will witness the whole creative process and will be able to contribute to it. There is no technological obstacle preventing the participation of the clients clients, as well.
It is difficult to imagine that "virtual performances"
will replace real life ones.
The mass rock concert has its own inimitable sounds, palette and smells. But a virtual production of a record is on the cards and it is tens of percents cheaper than a normal production. Again, the participants will interact through the Intranet. They will swap notes, play their own instruments, make comments by e-mail, play together using an appropriate software. If one of them is grabbed by inspiration in the middle of (his) night, he will be able to preserve and pass on his ideas through the Net. The creative process will be aided by novel applications which enable the simultaneous transfer of sound over the Net. The processes which are already digitized (the mix, for one) will pose no problem to a digitized medium. Other applications will let the users listen to the final versions and even ask the public for his preview opinion.
Thus, even creative processes which are perceived as demanding human presence - will no longer do so with the advent of the Net.
Perhaps it is easier to understand a Virtual Law Firm or Virtual Accountants Office.
In the extreme, such a firm will not have physical offices, at all. The only address will be an e-mail address. Dozens of lawyers from all over the world with hundreds of specialities will be partners in such an office. Such an office will be truly multinational and multidisciplinary. It will be fast and effective because its members will electronically swap information (precedents, decrees, laws, opinions, research and plain ideas or professional experience).
It will be able to service clients in every corner of the globe. It will involve the transfer of audio files (NetPhones), text, graphics and video (crucial in certain types of litigation). Today, such information is sent by post and messenger services. Whenever different types of information are to be analysed - a physical meeting is a must. Otherwise, each type of information has to be transferred separately, using unique equipment for each one.
Simultaneity and interactivity - this will be the name of the game in the Internet. The professional term is "Coopetition" (cooperation between potential competitors, using the Internet).
Other possibilities: a virtual production of a movie, a virtual research and development team, a virtual sales force. The harbingers of the virtual university, the virtual classroom and the virtual (or distance) medical centre are here.
The Internet - Mother of all Media
The Internet is the technological solution to the
mythological "home entertainment centre" debate.
It is almost universally agreed that, in the future, a typical home will have one apparatus which will give it access to all types of information. Even the most daring did not talk about simultaneous access to all the types of information or about full interactivity.
The Internet will offer exactly this: access to every conceivable type of information simultaneously , the ability to process them at the same time and full interactivity. The future image of this home centre is fairly clear - it is the timing that is not. It is all dependent on the availability of a wide (information) band - through which it will be possible to transfer big amounts of data at high speeds, using the same communications line. Fast modems were coupled with optic fibres and with faulty planning and vision of future needs. The cable television industry, for instance, is totally technologically unprepared for the age of interactivity. This is only partly the result of unwise, restrictive, legislation which prohibits data vendors from stepping on each others toes. Phone companies were not permitted to provide Internet services or to transfer video through their wires - and cable companies were not allowed to transmit phone calls.
It is a question of time until these fossilized remains are removed by the almighty hand of the market. When this happens, the home centre is likely to look like this:
A central computer attached to a big screen divided to windows. Television is broadcast on one window. A software application is running on another. This could be an application connected to the television program (deriving data from it, recording it, collating it with pertinent data it picks out of databases). It could be an independent application (a computer game).
Updates from the New York Stock exchange flash at the corner of the screen and an icon blinks to signal the occurrence of a significant economic event.
A click of the mouse (?) and the news flash is converted to a voice message. Another click and your broker is on the InternetPhone (possibly seen in a third window on the screen). You talk, you send him a fax containing instructions and you compare notes. The fax was printed on a word processing application which opened up in yet another window.
Many believe that the communication with the future generation of computers will be voice communication. This is difficult to believe. It is weird to talk to a machine (especially in the presence of other humans). We are seriously inhibited this way. Moreover, voice will interrupt other peoples work or pleasure. It is also close to impossible to develop an efficient voice recognition software. Not to mention mishaps such as accidental activation.
The Friendly Internet
The Internet will not escape the processes
experienced by all other media.
It will become easy to operate, user-friendly, in professional parlance.
It requires too much specialized information. It is not accessible to those who lack basic hardware and (Windows) software concepts.
Alas, most of the population falls into the latter category. Only 30 million "Windows" operating systems were sold worldwide. Even if this constitutes 20% of all the copies (the rest being pirated versions) - it still represents less than 3% of the population of the world. And this, needless to say, is the world's most popular software (following the DOS operating system).
The Internet must rely on something completely different. It must have sophisticated, transparent-to-the-user search engines to guide to the cavernous chaotic libraries which will typify it. The search engines must include complex decision making algorithms. They must understand common languages and respond in mundane speech. They will be efficient and incredibly fast because they will form their own search strategy (supplanting the users faulty use of syntax).
These engines, replete with smart agents will refer the user to additional data, to cultural products which reflect the users history of preferences (or pronounced preferences expressed in answers to feedback questionnaires). All the decisions and activities of the user will be stored in the memory of his search engine and assist it in designing its decision making trees. The engine will become an electronic friend, advise the user, even on professional matters.
Decentralized Lack of Planning
The course adopted by content creators (producers) in the
last few years proves the maxim that it is easy to repeat
mistakes and difficult to derive lessons from them. Content
producers are constantly buying channels to transfer their
contents. This is a mistake. A careful study of the history of
successful media (e.g., television) points to a clear pattern:
Content producers do not grant life-long exclusivity to any single channel. Especially not by buying into it. They prefer to contract for a limited time with content providers (their broadcast channels). They work with all of them, sometimes simultaneously.
In the future, the same content will be sold on different sites or networks, at different times. Sometimes it will be found with a provider which is a combination of cable TV company and phone company - at other times, it will be found with a provider with expertise in computer networks. Much content will be created locally and distributed globally - and vice versa.
No exclusivity pact will survive. Networks such as CompuServe are doomed and have been doomed since 1993. The approach of decentralized access, through numerous channels, to the same information - will prevail.
The Transparent Language
The Internet will become the next battlefield between have
countries and have-not countries. It will be a cultural war zone
(English against French, Japanese, Chinese, Russian and Spanish).
It will be politically charged: those wishing to restrict the
freedom of speech (authoritarian and dictatorial regimes,
governments, conservative politicians) against pro-speechers.
Different peer groups, educational and income social-economic strata, ethnic, sexual preference groups - will all fight in the eternal fields of the Internet.
Yet, two developments will pacify the scene:
Automatic translation applications (like Accent) will make every bit of information accessible to all. The lingual (and, by extension ethnic or national) source of the information will be disguised. A feeling of a global village will permeate the medium. Being ignorant of the English language will no longer hinder ones access to the Net. Equal opportunities.
The second trend will be the new classification methods of contents on the Net together with the availability of chips intended to filter offensive information. Obscene material will not be available to tender souls. anti-Semitic sites will be blocked to Jews and communists will be spared Evil Empire speeches. Filtering will be usually done using extensive and adaptable lists of keywords or key phrases.
This will lead to the formation of cultural Internet Ghettos - but it will also considerably reduce tensions and largely derail populist legislative efforts aimed at curbing or censoring free speech.
Public Internet - Private Internet
The day is not far when every user will be able to define
his areas of interest, order of priorities, preferences and
tastes. Special applications will scour the Net for him and
retrieve the material befitting his requirements. This material
will be organized in any manner prescribed.
A private newspaper comes to mind. It will have a circulation of one copy - the users. It will borrow its contents from a few hundreds of databases and electronic versions of newspapers on the Net. Its headlines will reflect the main areas of interest of its sole subscriber. The private paper will contain hyperlinks to other sites in the Internet: to reference material, to additional information on the same subject. It will contain text, but also graphics, audio, video and photographs. It will be interactive and editable with the push of a button.
Another idea: the intelligent archive.
The user will accumulate information, derived from a variety of sources in an archive maintained for him on the Net. It will not be a classical "dead" archive. It will be active. A special application will search the Net daily and update the archive. It will contain hyperlinks to sites, to additional information on the Net and to alternative sources of information. It will have a "History" function which will teach the archive about the preferences and priorities of the user.
The software will recommend new sites to him and subjects similar to his history. It will alert him to movies, TV shows and new musical releases - all within his cultural sphere. If convinced to purchase - the software will order the wares from the Net. It will then let him listen to the music, see the movie, or read the text.
The internet will become a place of unceasing stimuli, of internal order and organization and of friendliness in the sense of personally rewarding acquaintance. Such an archive will be a veritable friend. It will alert the user to interesting news, leave messages and food for thought in his e-mail (or v-mail). It will send the user a fax if not responded to within a reasonable time. It will issue reports every morning.
This, naturally, is only a private case of the archival potential of the Net.
A network connecting more than 16.3 million computers (end 1996) is also the biggest collective memory effort in history after the Library of Alexandria. The Internet possesses the combined power of all its constituents. Search engines are, therefore, bound to be replaced by intelligent archives which will form universal archives, which will store all the paths to the results of searches plus millions of recommended searches.
Compare this to a newspaper: it is much easier to store back issues of a paper in the Internet than physically. Obviously, it is much easier to search and the amortization of such a copy is annulled. Such an archive will let the user search by word, by key phrase, by contents, search the bibliography and hop to other parts of the archive or to other territories in the Internet using hyperlinks.
We have already mentioned SET, the safety standard. This
will facilitate credit card transactions over the Net. These are
safe transactions even today - but there an ingrained interest to
say otherwise. Newspapers are afraid that advertising budgets
will migrate to the Web. Television harbours the same fears. More
commerce on the Net - means more advertising dollars diverted
from established media. Too many feel unhappy when confronted
with this inevitability. They spread lies which feed off the
ignorance about how safe paying with credit cards on the Net is.
Safety standards will terminate this propaganda and transform the
Internet into a commercial medium.
Users will be able to buy and sell goods and services on the Net and get them by post. Certain things will be directly downloaded (software, e-books). Many banking transactions and EDI operations will be conducted through bank-clients intranets. All stock and commodity exchanges will be accessible and the role of brokers will be minimized. Foreign exchange will be easily tradable and transferable. Home banking, private newspapers, subscriptions to cultural events, tourism packages and airline tickets - are all candidates for Net-Trading.
The Internet is here to stay.
Commercially, it would be an extreme strategic error to ignore it. A lot of money will flow through it. A lot more people will be connected to it. A lot of information will be stored on it.
Nothing serious is gonna happen.
Aldous Huxley was right.
Only few want liberty, the rest prefer security.
Every problem will be resolved with "design medicaments", TV, PlayStations, Disney Worlds, Football Leagues and CNN will show us what we want to see.
We will brighten our conscience with a lot of green peace and NGOs which will restrict the game to Technology. In fact there will be no problems, Our god "technology" will resolve them; in the "future" of course, always in the future, always a promise of redemption. You know, most people are convinced that technology (in the next century) will eliminate pain!!!!!!!!!!! how can people be so credulous, so stupid, so ignorant of what pain is.
Nobody will want to use the outstanding possibilities of interconnectedness, just to shop, stupid chatting and do bad songs.
A great middle-class of "intelligent" and stupid people, over them the great beasts ( but very small men) will fight restlessly for world dominion (if a new Cecil Rhodes will appear, at least it would be interesting to hear what he says, but this is another sign of our times: great elementary forces, very small men).
XXI is the century of entertainment.
Life will become show business.
Andy Warhol was wrong, everybody are gonna have much more time on the screen. The last try of the bourgeoisie to have a unique life.
Soon all of our neighbours would have a music band and a song at the top charts - in a few decades artists will again be about artistic work and not about public relations as now, and then will be the time of great art.
In the meantime the few "cultured men" that will remain alive will be forced to inner emigration, time to live outside this madness in a little house in the country, cultivating tomatoes, onions and their own food and reading good old books, waiting for better times to come.
That's my own desire.
Titanism is against Muses, better retreat to the woods and wait for the gods.
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