A Welcoming Letter
Dear intrepid visitor
The gospel of the Internet has been just another short-sighted “End of History” promise – the paradigm of a single global society that will last in eternity. But I tell you: It will not end history. It will not prevail. It will go away and go through many metamorphoses, like the Pony Express, the Chappe telegraph or the network of pagers in the 1990s. And here are some reasons why:
#1 Local storage is the new cloud: “All Youtube on your hard disk.”
Even if Moore’s law comes to its certain physical end – there is lots of room until storage of information will hit any limit. Storage efficiency will grow by several magnitudes. It won’t be long and we can carry all Youtube and Wikipedia on our phones – and we will. Why? Because it’s possible; and it’s convenient; it makes us independent from infrastructure; and we can access things on our own without being tracked. “But the things on your local device will be outdated soon!” you may say. And I will reply: Who cares? Who cares if a book was written last year or last century? News? Who needs news – this is an Early-Internetian concept! We will have algorithms dealing with relevant events and stories on our behalf. And few things happening elsewhere are so important that you need them right away. Good old television was far sufficient. Actually, the newspapers did (and still do) a perfect job delivering news. Suddenly, there will be a realm of The Great Offline, where media that only need occasional updates will thrive.
#2 Small-scale networks gnawing at the backbones: “Darknets: By invitation only.”
There is an easy solution for online harassment: Just keep to people you personally know, people you can trust, who you have invited and by design of your connection cannot pass your private stories and messages on to others without your approval. Sounds utopian? It is already reality, and called “Dark Twitter”, people protecting their accounts, just following other protected accounts or in the form of complex societal structures mirrored in overlapping Messenger groups. Sharing pictures or sharing thoughts perfectly well works within small, closed communities. And we will see closed peer-to-peer communication conveyed by the blockchain and built upon local mesh networks, without the need of a central server or service. Darknets sound like the opposite of our libertarian fantasy of the global web everybody can immediately be part of. And it is. It is returning to the small village, to a private neighborhood, everybody their neighbors’ keeper. In the end, the Internet only has been a transitory structure connecting (“inter”) all the different networks until they were old enough to live their own lives.
#3 Personality instead of identity: “People you personally know are always authentic.”
In the local neighborhood of personal connections, everybody will know their peers. Like in bucolic village life, there is no need for identity. Villagers are not individuals, they are personalities, they are your kin, you know where they live and how they look like. Nobody needs a profile in a village. Rules in the village are not enforced by police or administration but by social bonds. Communal means “within shared walls”. And all communities are gated.
#4 Augmented will become virtual again: “The image of Narcissus (and Echo crying in dispair)”
Augmented vs. virtual reality is like chirurgy vs. medicine. One prunes your body by cutting things away, the other makes you leave it by drugging your mind. Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Myst – this was real virtual reality. No bothering with other people, no bothering IRL. Now, with intelligent agents populating our (then locally stored) worlds, there is no need to compromise our reality with that of other users.
#5 Smartphone killed the Internet Star: “Oh, the places you will see!”
One could argue, Internet access through Desktop PCs only had been an early prehistoric Internet phase – or even that this has been the final episode of stationary communication and information technology. With the advent of 2bn smart mobile devices, everything changed: the way we communicate, the way we move through space and the amount of data we produce. Just like life once left the oceans and conquered land, with smartphones networked information became the ubiquitous data layer of our daily life. But with their 20+ sensors, modern smartphones have emancipated from the Internet: they talk to and share their data in ambient intimacy with local and very specific places, objects, networks and not the cold, impassioned Internet.
#6 Ephemeral Culture
This may seem paradoxical at first: Culture and communication Post Internet is ephemeral. Most people are not only belonging to many networked villages and tribes at the same time, but they can also switch affiliations at any time. Post Internet culture is a very liquid culture where most communication comes in streams and waves. Apps like Snapchat, YouNow or Meerkat are only there for the fleeting moment. They are the speed layer of the lambda architecture of our culture and supplement the Great Offline of our knowledge data bases.
#7 From wearables to genetics: “This body is here for your convenience. Please help keep it clean”
As the smart dust comes closer and technology moves further down into our bodies, we will even less accept intrusion. As wearables become our first screen, the space for advertising becomes more and more narrow. When technology crosses the final line and moves into our body, we will not risk another Heartbleed leakage. Since no connection can be proven safe, we would just cut the line. Genetics will not be networked. The Internet of things will not be ingested. However: Why stop at our skin with this hygiene? When our clothes are the extension of our skin, as Teilhard de Chardin once said, we should keep them clean too! And when our kitchen is the extension our stomach, why should we allow it to be hacked? Welcome to a world of movable boundaries between spheres of our self.
So, the Internet will become obsolete. It will return to what it really is: An architecture for computers and not for humans. Technology will progress and free us from our connectedness to calculating devices. It will render us back a closely-knit, pre-modern village life but with all mankind’s knowledge in our electric pockets. Our neighbors all over the globe will keep an eye on us. And they will be much more rigorous than any NSA could ever be. And this is how we will organize daily life on planetary scale with ten billion people, that can never be governed by any top-down administration: It will become a self-organizing system, a system of global communities where no man will be an island anymore. The individual with all of its enlightenment concept of freedom will melt away. The person will take its place, embedded, taken care of.
Looking back on the last 25 years, when the Internet shape-shifted from an arcane scientific practice into an almost-global infrastructure, the picture sharpens with every additional year into the Digital Era: The Internet as an universal, globalist dream really had reached its peak in March 2000. People who are still waiting for investments in Internet startups climbing to their pre-Dotcom Crash niveau simply have not grasped the metamorphosis of the last 5-10 years that has dragged us into the new Post-Internet age – more tribal than global, rather cosmopolitan than universalist and incredibly heterogeneous, rich, and creative!
PS: The Internet started as a means to connect people via machines. People would connect via the Internet. But the Internet was just the crutch that helped us learn to move and think in networks. We have learned to walk without it. We overcame the tool.
The ideas here presented are the result of a discussion that Benedikt Koehler and Joerg Blumtritt had over the course of several days during a short stay on the Isola d’Elba, celebrating the bicentennial of Napoleon Bonaparte’s arrival on the island, in August 2014. There is loads of literature, philosophy, and also technological papers to support each of our postulates. But you may very well google them yourself.