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Alan Sondheim: Internet Futures (apologies for cross-posting)

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Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 13:21:56 -0400 (EDT)
From: Alan Sondheim <>
Subject: Internet Futures (apologies for cross-posting) 


Internet Futures

The following six descriptions briefly outline potential futures of the
Internet. They include "living in cyberspace"; a corporate model with pro-
prietary software allowing multiple open-tasking applications; the "dis-
persed Net" controlling home, office, entertainment, and personal environ-
ments; the hacked Net, requiring extensive firewalling and fast intranet
development; the institutional Net, for scientific/governmental and other
exchanges, including distance education; and the development of intensive
Net communities. None of these signal _the_ future; all of them are in
continuous interaction. Still, it's interesting to speculate on the feel
and phenomenology of the Net a decade or two from now.

I. Seamless Virtual Reality

(I walk in real time in virtual space, interact with others in virtual
space; I'm surrounded by it. This develops out of MOOs and GUI MOOs, as
well as VRML, etc. End result? Living online in an unreal real. It's not
clear what constitutes one or the other - or even what constitutes a
single self in relation to multiple others.)

Living on the holodeck - keywords for escape.
Requirements: Enormous bandwidth, body-suiting, sensory expansions.
Developments: Totalization, escape, perfection, digital repetition
 without loss, noiseless.

II. Window and Multi-Threaded Accumulations

(I'm a corporate middle-manager; my high-speed machine has an average of
fifteen windows open at any one time. These include ongoing audio, video,
and textual conferencing; stock quotations; current news; various other
push technologies. Intelligent agents scan the Net for me; I'm a third
player among agents and windows. Information is porous, through-put. It's
not clear what constitutes a task, job, or conference, and it's even less
clear what constitutes a human or other agent. Selves, real and virtual,
extend throughout fragmented networks.)

Numerous windows open simultaneously in the GUI.
Requirements: Limited bandwidth, traditional inputs.
Developments: Capital expansions and acquisitions, competitions,
 proprietary softwares, noisy.

III. Real-World Dispersions of Digital Part-Objects

(I wear and live among small computers that make life easier, enhance
communications, and create socio-cultural prostheses. I can't tell my self
from the machine at this point - but there's no reason to. My cyborgian
body is continuously monitored; half the information that passes around me
passes through me - and I'm none the wiser. It's no longer clear what con-
stitutes "me," and the old dichotomies of flesh and machine, real and vir-
tual, increasingly break down.)

Micro-processing and full-processing in the lived and workday environment,
 dedicated micro-computers for specific tasks.
Requirements: Limited bandwidth, local wireless telecommunications.
Developments: Within and without the digital realm, parallel processings,
 local micro-usages, espionages, quiescent.

IV. Porous Renegades and Defense Systems

(I live in a world of small networks, defending themselves against digital
wars and other attacks. My information is continually stolen and repro-
duced; I have no control over my finances, personal life, or public life.
Decisions are made for me in my name; most of what comes through the Net
is noise of one sort or another. The wealthy live behind extensive private
networks and firewalls; subscription services with private channels are
the order of the day. It's not clear what constitutes ownership of intell-
ectual property or computer crimes.)

Defense mechanisms for limited bandwidth in the midst of chaos, the hacked
 internet, local and global instabilities and seizures.
Requirements: Programmming knowledge, available bandwith and technology.
Developments: Breakdown of individuation, intellectual property, control,
 tendencies towards intranets and firewalls.

V. Universal, Dispersed Governing / Science and Technology / Education

(The nation-state and its institutions are dissipating, replaced by on-
line institutions with radically different modes of being. Online is
always high-speed; decisions are made and impelemented quickly. Education
and social isolation play important roles in the fabric of the future.
Enormous differences open up between the technological elite and the rest
of us. Managing information flow is critical; it's not clear what consti-
tutes knowledge or what knowledge "means" any more.)

Shared active and potentially legislated knowledges, scientific
 results and searches on demand. Institutionalization. Dispersed learning.
Requirements: Any; full bandwidth for large-scale parallel processing
Development: Information exchange, implementations of preferences, fast-
 forward scientific development.

VI. Communitas

(Me and my friends and lovers are always online. We have flesh-meets,
generated by online experiences. Our communities are formed from mutually-
defined interests; they're self-governing for the most part, and possess
their own servers. They're designed to be as redundant as the original
Net, making it possible to firewall in case of emergency. Sexuality has
become increasingly broadband, and all sorts of new relationships are
tried - to the detriment of the older offline ones. Ethics becomes in-
creasingly situation. It's not clear what constitutes a "reasonable" moral

Shared spaces, knowledges, relationships, sexualities.
Requirements: Any
Development: Intensification of community and shared histories/symbolic
 formations, interpenetration of online and offline behaviors.