Digital sorcerers

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
16 May, 2017
Editorial: 98
Fecha de publicación original: 16 diciembre, 1997

Word and stone, once released never come back

The ancient Greeks will never know what they missed by being on the scene too soon in a world that has given birth to the Net. Fond as they were of auguries and sorcerers, dedicating the best technology of their era to the unravelling of the thoughts of Mr Future, they would have made a fortune today with the Internet. As you know, the first thing two expert internauts say when they get together is, “I think what’s going to happen in the Net is …” followed by choice exercises in futurology plagued with as much guesswork as a selection of numbers chosen for the draw in the next lottery. That’s why the ancient Greeks would be running the consulting and assessing business now. They would be right up there at the top too because if there’s one important, really important, thing we can say about the Internet it is not what it is doing at the moment, but what it is going to do in the future. The Net is one of those peculiar phenomena where we are more concerned about what is going to happen to them in the future than in the present, a bit like climate change: we worry more about the disastrous results of a rise of a few centimetres in sea levels in the year 2074 than about the thousands drowned in floods in Bangladesh right now. Prediction is more than a sport though: it is putting oneself at the earth’s axis to determine in what direction the globe will move from this moment on (or in just a few days). That’s why the oracle of Apollo, in Delphi, was considered the centre of the world, and so that there would be no doubt about it, the exact spot was marked with a stone.

Well, times have changed, Delphi was subjected to the pillaging of various invaders and the temple has sought another centre point on the planet. It is at present to be found in Pedralbes (Barcelona) at Esade, where our friend Alfons Cornella officiates as high priest and a handful of friends as augurers. On the 17th of this month, the second sacred ceremony of divining from the entrails of bits and predicting the future…of the Internet, or at least the future over the next twelve months, will take place.

The gathering last year proved very entertaining, but a year later, we can all breathe easy about the fall of the reign of Alexander the Great. If Philip’s son had been guided by some of the predictions made then, more than one person would have paid with their head for the mistakes they induced the gods to commit. Fortunately, time passes so quickly that the second round is already upon us. With Alfons at the helm driving us on, I am quite certain that this meeting of digital sorcerers will become an inescapable annual event every December, just like Christmas.

Here is a preview of a few of the predictions I will put forward at the temple in Pedralbes (I could include a few more, but brevity dictates – oh for those times when Cassandra could devote herself professionally to the task and spend all the time she fancied on it!). Anyway, one mustn’t use up all ones bullets in one battle: there are still a few weeks to the end of the year with enough time to go into these ideas more deeply and elaborate on what the future holds.

The construction of the urban digital landscape will be, in my opinion one of the important events of 1998. Citizen Nets are beginning to emerge from the cradle and take their first steps to puberty. Up until now, we have moved in a fairly barren landscape, determined to a large extent by the global vocation of the Net, as well as the “asychronicity” of the arrival in cyberspace of its inhabitants. This tendency will not decrease with time, in fact quite the opposite. Nevertheless, alongside this, we will see communities maturing which interrelate not only on the basis of cultural references and common interests but also on their desire to establish in cyberspace the rich urban network which they occupy in the real world. This will, of course, require a considerable increase in the internaut population with some capacity for making specific demands in the sphere of the Net and of generating the necessary creative impulse to satisfy them. We are about to witness the arrival of the “third plug” to homes, the data cable, and this will, undoubtedly, be a very important factor in the unleashing of a wave of digital constructions related to Citizen Nets.

The second point is about Internet’s emergence from its cyberspace shell and move in to the real world. Up until now, this has been almost a curiosity: for example, Internet cafés and bars. But, if the Net has the social, economic and political significance that many of us attribute to it, then it will have to emerge from its prison of cables and screens and become flesh in the real world, as a way of organising things, work and leisure, and even capturing concrete spaces in order to reconvert them into products for the Information Age. For example, bookshops. Bookshops are a typical product of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, very little has changed as far as their “packaging” and functioning is concerned. What we do when we visit a bookshop today is just what Dickens did in his day (let’s at least choose distinguished company for our examples). Either we go looking for a particular book, or we run our eyes along the shelves to see if we can spot an attractive title, or we flip through this or that copy, or (if we know them or trust their judgement) we ask the bookkeepers to suggest some novelty, and that’s about it.

Now just imagine (I’m predicting, which amounts to the same thing): in the Information Age, bookshops could become “storehouses of knowledge”. The space would be cabled with screens dotted about all over the place (in the first phase, at least). Consultations would be specific and in hypertext: I could investigate on screen what there is on knight errants. I would get information about books, authors, critics, listen to recited paragraphs, be told if the book I want is available or how long it would take for it to be delivered to my house, etc. If I should see a book on the shelves that interests me, I would be able to consult the screen next to it about the author, the subject matter, research used, the reference bibliography, etc. Maybe that is the information I want to take away with me. Or I might want to take it, and the book. Something similar is bound to happen in record shops, and it wouldn’t be strange if these businesses merged as a result of knowledge transmitted by the Net.

To sum up, if the Internet represents a social revolution, a different way of representing knowledge, then it cannot remain confined to cables with the occasional appearance on screen. Nor can it limit itself to putting its iconography into the exterior, as happens at the moment with the ubiquitous URL on advertising hoardings, trucks, flags, diaries, football fields or motorways. The Net needs to surface physically if it is to take over and modify those spaces where its impulse for cooperative organisation and interaction clearly shows off the content and sense of the Information Society.

And, to mention something else, we’ll see what happens next year.

Translation: Bridget King