kai_krause's picture
Software Pioneer; Philosopher; Author, A Realtime Literature Explorer

One look the 'most active search terms', called 'Google Zeitgeist', or the current 'TV ratings winners', or MTV's 'top ten musical artists' and I get the uncanny feeling of being surrounded by an alien race of humanoids. 

Who are these people? And what are they doing with these glorious resources ?

That perception of desperate solitude has probably always been a central part of any sane and rational thinker — as well as less sane and irrational artist. A highly intense love-hate relationship of an active mind towards the teeming lemming millions surrounding and suffocating him. Now enter: the Web.

Has the Internet changed my own thinking? Dramatically so. 

Not at the neuron level, but more abstractly: it completely redefined how we perceive the world and ourselves in it, new models of how we work and research, entertain ourselves, communicate with our family and friends, how we learn about the past and preserve our memories, what we expect of the future and how we plan for it, what we watch, read, listen to: all greatly influenced by technology in general and the Net in particular.

But it is a double-edged sword, a yinyang yoyo of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Long ago I stopped expecting 'the world as such' and 'society as a whole' to provide solutions for me on a silver plate. The only sensible strategy is an eclectic path to define quality of life for yourself, and use all tools in whatever customized fashion to forge your path.

In other words: the planet is in shambles, but you can try to help and still carve out a meaningful, peaceful & happy existence on it.

The Internet is the epitome of that concept: barely in its infancy, in a deplorable state between 'not quite there yet' and 'already half fallen apart', unruly chaos, ugly, confused, appealing to the worst base instincts, but: you can use it in entirely unprecedented ways to enhance your life ambitions, with more choices, options and knowledge than any crowned heads in history.

But it is worth contrasting the euphoria with a taste of the dystopia.

Not the obvious topics like terror and child porn — the lesser but mind numbingly pervasive evils unnerve me: virus, trojan & phishing scams, incessant Nigerian cash crap, shrink your debt, lengthen your penis, news lite going gaga over Gaga, while teens are violently 'happy slapping' and ultracore pr0n swapping, guys with tattoed faces play ego shooters with death metal screams... 

...the tip of a dysfunctional iceberg.

Being there during the very early days of computing and the Net, I cannot help but compare the vision, the hope and the theory with the reality we find ourselves in decades later. There were such lofty expectations usingmultimedia in education and learning but already soon after, with Douglas Adams in a series of roundtable appearance in the nineties, we called it"multimediocrity".

No one then expected the extent of this seething underbelly, or the pathetic forms it would take.

A Byron poem, interrupted by hemorrhoids ointment ads? Clicking it you get:"Now! New! Find the best deals on hemorrhoids!"

I cringe, in several places.

Brockman's mail arrived...in the Gmail spam folder. I noticed the ad at the top: "Creamy Spam Broccoli Casserole" it said. "Serves Eight". 

Silly and cynical, but not so bad.

Writing to a friend I began "we nearly died laughing", but even before finishing the paragraph, Google ads showed "funeral plots" & "discount caskets". 

Morbid, but not so bad?

Watching an unbelievably beautiful video of Hubble probing the edge of space: unfathomable 17.000 comments, but half of them inane, gross, with atrocious spelling, insults from childish name-calling, immature outbursts, vicious moronic bullying to outright gibberish insanity. Reading YouTube comment threads can make you sense the end of the world as we knew it. 

How sad, but I guess one doesn't have to look?

But that's not an acceptable answer. It is not just silly, cynical or morbid. It is all too easy to look away and cling to our personal list of "fave cool stuff" while the seams are showing, the veneer is loose. 

The ethereal beauty also contains lethal ether to the less fortunate non-digerati, such as the children or the elderly.

The Internet brings the promise of connecting it all. 

But it could also connect it all... into one gigantic mess. 

The sum-total of human lack of knowledge.

Of course there are many positive counter examples. I cling to them daily. Wikipedia itself is a miracle of sorts, and incidentally, edge.org must be cited as a hidden gem. Actually, it is more like a 19th century salon, (no interactivity, not even a forum or comments) and ultimately these essays will be read — as a book! Telling and charming.

In my sixth decade now, I always had a wholehearted passion for new horizons, searching out the newest tools possible. I got into synthesizers in the late sixties to create sounds no one had heard before, then into computer graphics in the seventies to make images no one had ever seen. 

And soon I became a tool maker myself and active in the emerging online world from ArpaNet, the Well to UseNet, creating daily chatrooms about pixels & philosophy, years before the Web even began. 

So this is not a quick quip by some Luddite or Noob who 'doesn't get it', but rather a profound objection by a saddened observer since the earliest days, clinging to his deeply appreciative fascination for the immense potential.

Last decade I spent cocooned, quietly thinking about approaches, solutions, ideas. There is much to say, which, however, the margin is not large enough to contain.

Eventually, it will all get there, just as it always did spiral forwards and evolve, from Newton to Einstein just as from Newton to iPhone.

The Net will not reach its true potential in my little lifetime. But it surely has influenced the thinking in my lifetime like nothing else ever has.