Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tug of War Between Virtual and Real

Devil's Advocate reporting:
Time and again I read news about a cryptically named organization introducing a new device, technique or mechanism having an equally cryptic name that will limit or restrict unwanted use of a product throughout the Internet, and soon after, time and again, I am informed that same mechanism is rendered useless by a crack. For most, it looks like a game of hide and seek, played by thieves and the police, good and bad or you name it. Is it really so?

We often forget that this game is played in cyberspace, between parties with views wide apart. Back in 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media,

The telephone: speech without walls. The phonograph: music hall without walls. The photograph: museum without walls. The electric light: space without walls. The movie, radio and TV: classroom without walls. Man the food-gatherer reappears incongruously as information-gatherer. In this role, electronic man is no less a nomad than his Paleolithic ancestors.

He seems to stop just short of writing "Cyberspace: reality without boundaries,"[1] and detailing, 30 years before William Gibson, the role of the cybercowboy. As virtual reality theorist Marianne Trench[2] notes,

When William Gibson's visions were published, they struck sparks in the real world. Scientists and hackerture they couldn't wait to build... Never before had science fiction literature determined the way people thought and talked.

And hits the bull's eye. On one side we have the scientists and hackers who tried to build the Internet to realize a vision, William Gibson's vision of a new universe, a parallel universe created and sustained by the world's computers and communication lines, where the tablet becomes a page becomes a screen becomes a world, a virtual world, a common mental geography, built, in turn, by consensus and revolution, canon and experiment, the realm of pure information.[3] A place where our subconscious will emerge, our alter ego will transcend its physical boundaries, an extension of our selves. A place where information wants to be free.

On the other side we see the business, big and small, that belatedly discovered its potential, that wants to make it a utility, a huge on-line shop, an extension to their distribution channels, with rules and regulations imported from the real world.

I am the Advocate, and I speak the truth! True; shopping on-line, accessing all the products and services of the world in front of your screen has its merit, especially if you are in the middle of nowhere, in a small town, like me. But it is not the utility that makes me buy a high-speed connection. My mail was fully functional when I had that 14.4 kbps modem.

Hence, consider yourselves warned, whoever you are. Otherwise many will quit the Internet to join the hyper Internet.

[1]Mick Doherty, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY.
[2]Marianne Trench and Peter von Brandenburg, producers; 1992, Cyberpunk. Mystic Fire Video: Intercon Productions.
[3]William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984, Ace Books.

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