Rod Dreher

The visionary David Gelernter, one of the smartest people on the planet re: the Internet, says “it’s time to start taking the Internet seriously.” These excerpts can’t begin to do justice to the ideas in his short essay, but they’ll give you a taste. For example:

27. Returning to our fundamental riddle: if this is the information age, what do our children know that our parents didn’t? The answer is “now.” They know about now.
28. Internet culture is a culture of nowness. The Internet tells you what your friends are doing and the world news now, the state of the shops and markets and weather now, public opinion, trends and fashions now. The Internet connects each of us to countless sites right now — to many different places at one moment in time.
29. Nowness is one of the most important cultural phenomena of the modern age: the western world’s attention shifted gradually from the deep but narrow domain of one family or village and its history to the (broader but shallower) domains of the larger community, the nation, the world. The cult of celebrity, the importance of opinion polls, the decline in the teaching and learning of history, the uniformity of opinions and attitudes in academia and other educated elites — they are all part of one phenomenon. Nowness ignores all other moments but this. In the ultimate Internet culture, flooded in nowness like a piazza flooded in sea water, drenched in a tropical downpour of nowness, everyone talks alike, dresses alike, thinks alike.
30. As I wrote at the start of this piece, no moment in technology history has ever been more exciting or dangerous than “now.” As we learn more about now, we know less about then. The Internet increases the supply of information hugely, but the capacity of the human mind not at all. (Some scientists talk about artificially increasing the power of minds and memories — but then they are no longer talking about human beings. They are discussing some new species we know nothing about. And in this field, we would be fools to doubt our own ignorance.) The effect of nowness resembles the effect of light pollution in large cities, which makes it impossible to see the stars. A flood of information about the present shuts out the past.
31. But — the Internet could be the most powerful device ever invented for understanding the past, and the texture of time.

Gelernter goes on to explain, or to attempt to explain, how this might be. I’m afraid I don’t get it. I’m afraid the past will become utterly lost to us. And that being the case, we become perfectly manipulable by those in power — especially those who are adept at manipulating the information stream.
Along those lines, there’s this from Gelernter’s essay:

8. Practical business: who will win the tug of war between private machines and the Cloud? Will you store your personal information on your own personal machines, or on nameless servers far away in the Cloud, or both? Answer: in the Cloud. The Cloud (or the Internet Operating System, IOS — “Cloud 1.0”) will take charge of your personal machines. It will move the information you need at any given moment onto your own cellphone, laptop, pad, pod — but will always keep charge of the master copy. When you make changes to any document, the changes will be reflected immediately in the Cloud. Many parts of this service are available already.
9. Because your information will live in the Cloud and only make quick visits to your personal machines, all your machines will share the same information automatically; a new machine will be useful the instant you switch it on; a lost or stolen machine won’t matter — the information it contains will evaporate instantly. The Cloud will take care that your information is safely encrypted, distributed and secure.

Who controls access to the Cloud? If you cannot access your personal information on the Cloud, how can you live in the modern world? How can you buy and sell? Let the reader understand.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus