Monday, April 11, 2005

The Centralized Ideal

So many of our network-inspired ideals imply--directly or indirectly--a hankering for a neat-and-tidy cenralized sense of authority and control (or at least a singlular guarantor of great QoS).

Historical sources and anecedents made such centralized command-and-control explict for philosophical reasons. Edward Bellamy's citywide pneumatic tube systems--contra the relative anarchy of the later real-life bicycle messengers of a later era--were at least the product of an explictly socialist utopian fantasy.

However, such an almost Jungian yearning for authoritative centralization also comes from less explicitly politically sources. Whether Isaac Asimov's Encylopedia Galactica from his Foundation Series or Jerry Pournelle's descriptions of brain implants that could ask any question of some (presumably) "knows-it-all" computer (Oath of Fealty), the implicit assumption has always been that there's a neat and correct source of all information.

We (hopefully) realize today that the reality is messier. There's no Encyclopedia Galactica; there's Google. Google (together with its sister search engines) give us the keys to the Web's treasures. Of course, they also give us acces to the "Net of a million lies." Nothing neat there.

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