The electric Neolithic

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
3 January, 2017
Editorial: 61
Fecha de publicación original: 4 marzo, 1997

Date of publication: 4/3/1997. Editorial 61.

Time and tide wait for no man

“We are still in the neolithic era of the digital age”‘ has been one of the phrases most bandied about when referring to cyberspace. Nevertheless, the difference between the two, ours and the real one, is appreciable, and by that I don’t just mean such clichéd things as quality of life, available technologies, national health services or royal weddings. No. Much more important, in my opinion, is the question of consciousness. In the neolithic nobody thought about what age was to follow, not even the historians of the time (or at least, that is what I suppose although I must admit my sources are very third-hand). In contrast, today we are very aware of the fact that we are storming ahead into a new era, and that talk of the neolithic is just a rather flowery figure of speech. We might be either on the brink of breaking another key link (it would be a good idea if someone kept a record of this one to save future generations the trouble of another laborious search, for the missing link, I mean), or in the process of constructing, with gay abandon, yet another empire.

One thing is clear though, and that is that our awareness of being at the start of an irreversible process is, today, of fundamental importance. After the Cold War, with its sensation of having been shut up in a stuffy room, we have moved on to another room where there is not only a breeze but a veritable whirlwind. And nobody knows just exactly where it might take us. Its only logic appears to be its irrepressible desire to cross frontiers and get round any obstacles in its path and, in a word, to put into practice everything that science will allow. Whether this soup is a good one or not, whether we choke on the first spoonful or whether what we digest will fertilise the new age, is for others to decide, because, as for ourselves, I suspect that we are hardly going to have time to say a single word on the subject. The forces that are carrying us in this direction are undoubtedly powerful ones and also tend to behave in a devious fashion: we are talking about storing and sending information and knowledge in invisible packaging to very specific points of ourselves and our surroundings: computers, TV sets, clocks, cellular phones, the dashboard or the windscreen of the car, the thrombosis regulator of the left tibia, the third neuron on the fourth floor on the left side of the brain.

The slogan is: if it can be done, it will be done, the only barrier is simply finding the technical know-how to do it. A year ago (what am I saying – it can’t be more than three or four months ago), people could still say, “Internet will never enter my house”. Or, (if we continue the metaphor of historical eras): “I am quite happy in the tree. Nobody is going to get me down from here.” One can imagine that the social pressure in that tough era of digital (bi-pedal) transition must have been really phenomenal to overcome this rigid resistance, which almost certainly existed – we must have got it from somewhere. In our time, social pressure takes on another form: that of speed. So, you don’t want the Internet because you think you should be the one to decide how and when you let it into your house via devices which you install (depending on your social position)? Well, beware because Internet is about to enter your house via the most innocuous and insignificant of all the gadgets: the light switch. And this step means tossing overboard another link in the long chain of events that leads nobody knows where.

The electrical company Norweb, which operates in the north-west of England, has just demonstrated that the Internet can get there through the mains electricity supply. The company has been experimenting for over a year and a half with simple but powerful ideas: sending telephone, video, TV, and data signals, and whatever else one might fancy, via electricity lines. Some homes are already receiving these signals, although, for the moment, the volume of traffic is still quite limited. But, the discovery represents an unexpected solution to the problems of congestion which affect some parts of the Internet. In the proto-electro-homes, the company installs a little box which acts like a digital traffic cop: it sends electrical power to the corresponding circuit and data to the telephone, television, computer, multimedia devices, etc.. Or to the wired walls, where –in the future i.e. in a few days’ time — the most urgent messages or news selected by each member of the family will appear.

Once “they” have resolved this fundamental problem for our existence on the planet, the question is: what will they send us through the water supply? It’s unthinkable that they won’t dream up something. All the necessary ingredients are there: networks of interconnected water-pipes all over the city with their terminals already installed, in addition these – the taps — have the great advantage of being standardised practically all over the planet. So, here is an interesting challenge for cyberspace designers, streams of data along with streams of water. Will we be able to bathe with impunity in pornographic webs? At least, they will have other uses besides justifying the salaries of the Moral Majority. And it would be a more elegant way of leaving the Stone Age and moving into a more entertaining, more active one based on softer materials.

Translation: BridgetKing