The night of the webteorite

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
10 January, 2017
Editorial: 64
Fecha de publicación original: 25 marzo, 1997

Date of publication: 25/3/97

Everything comes to an end

Info-saturation, info-depression, info-anxiety, info-stress, info-dementia, info-suicide. We are on the brink of solving one of the great mysteries of the end of the century: where do info-highways lead? To info-cemeteries. The first thing that all self-respecting internauts find themselves obliged to say, when faced with a cyberspace-educated audience, is that they feel they are buried alive by trillions of bits. “I need someone to manage this information or I’ll have to return to the age of papyrus in my desperation”. Both solutions are possible, although the degree of difficulty in achieving them is different.

The success of our friend McLuhan lay in that he emphasised the fascination with the medium and made us lose sight of its content. And, it is the latter which is making a comeback and demanding its share of the limelight: the slogan should read something like “the message is the message, and the medium, well that remains to be seen”. Internet offers an enormous amount of information. But, more importantly, it has created a demand which is even more extraordinary at the same pace as the number of things on offer multiply. In reality, and this is the point, those demands and supplies are made by the same people. It’s like achieving a square circle with a reticular shape, and, in addition, it’s open 24 hours a day. It’s all there waiting for the modem to stop bleeping (or for the sneaky connection of the ISDN). With every new person who connects, the dimensions of the circle, its squareness and its net-like structure, increases. The results are clear for all to see: chronic info-exhaustion desperately calling for info-coffins. But, there was a time when things were not like this (famous last words of the last tyrannosaurus when it found out that all its mates had really left it alone one cloudy day 60 million years ago).

The web has done the same as that meteorite which crashed into what we now call the Gulf of Mexico: it sent millions of species into the big sleep forever, while, at the same time, opening the flood gates of the planet to beings who, had it not been for that big bang, would never have had the opportunity to fulfil the historic command: go forth and multiply. So, in this case, the WWW is in the process of wiping out all the dinosaurs of our age thereby causing another evolutionary leap forward. The info-mammal has just taken over the land. And before anyone has had the chance to write them a new Bible, they have gone forth and multiplied like rabbits on a desert island, with all the typical problems that such a course entails. They are new species, fed on bits and whose powers of reproduction are on the up and up. Young, vigorous, insatiable, promiscuous, they fornicate with any creature of the same species they come across, producing info-offspring at an astonishing rate: every second they spit out millions of new bits, fertilising the neuronal circuits of new individuals or those that already exist. The bits act as the genetic code of the species: constantly pushing it beyond its own limits to ensure survival. If there weren’t enough bits everything would come to a halt and nobody knows how many bits are needed to keep things going. The curious thing is that no-one, neither info-humans nor the species that came before (ordinary humans) can remember what the world was like before the bit. If one asks them, it is clear that the evolutionary, digital leap has irreparably damaged that part of their brains where the answer should be elaborated. They have forgotten how to press the “return” key. The question now is, proceed or die.

Well, that’s all very well, but where are we proceeding to? It is here that a whole new landscape opens up especially if we place it within the geographical layout of information, communication and knowledge (which is the natural habitat of the info-human). Here, evolution has not stopped with the web. In fact, it proceeds at an extraordinary rate producing new phenotypes of the species with constantly changing attributes. More and more creatures no longer live in the shelter of the web tree from which they descended some time ago to take their first halting steps on the solid ground of information. These individuals have learned to live out in the open and don’t need to search the branches of the web for food with the same passion as in the past. And this does not mean that they are in the process of reverting back to their previous state. Not at all. In fact, just the contrary. Their connection rate per capita increases unceasingly, and is the rate of information managed per second. In other words, the less the web is visited, the more the use of the Net increases in all its other facets, from e-mail to agents and other mechanisms for generating, gathering, storing and interpreting bits. It seems, then, that we are entering a new phase in the development of the species.

The question that is setting this new phase in motion is a time-worn one, although in another guise, i.e. so what’s new? What was new, in the recent past, was the web, the tree of good and evil, the big mother (an info-feminist metaphor?). Now, generations of us info-humans are straying from our point of origin. Consequently, what is of interest is not whether one lives in the tree or its environs. When someone announces a new web, the identifying feature which indicates access to the new species, I ask (them) myself: What have they got or do they want to say? What vision do they bring that is different to the one that characterised them as humans? For, if they don’t have one, I suspect that they are only destined to increase the rate of info-anxiety for many of the species and, at the same time, contribute decisively to the maturing of all the info-health professions that are desperately trying to find themselves a place under the “bit” sun. Their news has to be really new and not just a camouflaged version of the old, for if it isn’t it will not fall on the fertile ground of the generations who are becoming more and more selective in their use of communication, information and knowledge.

This search is what is driving info-humans away from these webs, or rather driving them only to access certain webs, on the whole well-known ones, where they find quality food in abundance (is it a sign of maturity, or of old age, when we get to the stage of going back to reading the “time-worn classics”?) And, at the same time, they diversify their ways of relating to the Net, which amounts, on the one hand, to a phenomenal exercise in discrimination compared with previous behaviour (immediately after the fall of the web-tiorite) and, on the other, the opening up of new communications fronts replete with new needs and a very different dynamic. Those who are arriving in cyberspace now need to ask the right questions about the new configuration of the species, or, I suspect, they will suffer in this very dense info-atmosphere. Businesses that leap into the Net armed only with the “window-dressing spirit” –just to show off their wares– without simultaneously sending out a clear message as to what is new in what they are saying, thereby making their appearance in the environment unique and particular, run the risk of being swept into a trash pile by info-sweepers. If, for example, they think that along with selling watches or putting the catalogue of their whole institution in the Net, the way to say something that we don’t already know (or that we could know) about them is by plugging us in to news agencies or the media (“offering news services”), they will find people fleeing form them like the plague. In just how many places will we have to put up with reading, seeing or hearing how Israel has caused yet another upheaval in Jerusalem, that Clinton has twisted his ankle playing golf or that the latest floods in Bangladesh have cost the lives of thousands? That isn’t news any more. In the Net that is called redundancy. Each new info-naut –whether company, administration or individual– has to find the remarkable aspect of what they have to offer if they don’t want the “rigor biticus” to set in before they start. Their position in cyberspace will depend on how they design and exhibit their “news”. All of which begs the question as to what constitutes –or will constitute– news in cyberspace. A subject which we will tackle another day.

Translation: Bridget King