The Internet is a technological artifact; the literal exteriorization of the human nervous system brought into being by forces of big science and big capitalism and big military strategic thinking, and now in the service of a global information marketplace.
What seems to be dawning is an entirely new set of social and cosmological values where information is primary; more primary than gravity or light or matter. Information somehow precedes all of that. Life cannot be life without the inherent information in DNA. Physics cannot be physics without the information-carrying capacity of the electromagnetic field. Information is recognized as primary. And language, then—both human languages and computer languages in a constant state of evolution—become the carriers of some kind of eschatological hope.
The idea that man, rather than being a fallen creature, could be some kind of co-partner in the enterprise of creation—that particular strain of fantasy gets an enormous shot in the arm from the rise of cyberspace, the informational technologies, and the power to manipulate them; the power to steer human history toward a world of ever greater art and artifice with all the contradictions and ambiguities that that necessarily would entail.
I do not think that cyberspace is going to replace ordinary reality, but only sit above it in a supplementary fashion, expanding the dimensions of ordinary existence.
In a sense, the world wide web is a potential landing zone for a creature or an intelligence made purely of information. And I would bet to you, given our own present stage of evolution and our flirtation with digital existence, that all advanced forms of intelligence exist purely or optionally as nothing more than information.
One of the things that our technology holds out as a promise is the possibility of downloading ourselves into circuitry. Well, in practical terms—because we operate, as we sit here, at about 100 hertz—when you’re downloaded into a 200-megahertz machine, you’re going to discover that five minutes is an eternity of experience. [Aside: in this calculation, 5 minutes of real time would inflate to 19 years of subjective time] And so, in a way, what digitalization of consciousness (if it’s possible) means is a kind of pseudo-immortality or an ability to prolong the experience of being experientially to infinity—though natural lifespans would be unaffected by that.
Things are very much in a meltdown. We are between the caterpillar and the butterfly, and the butterfly could be an angel or a devil. Suppose that it actually mattered what we thought, what we did, what we created, the stocks that we bought, the detergent that we bought, and every single thing that we did mattered a thousandfold more than any other times. Then it’s important that we do not predict the future, we work to create the future. That is our responsibility in a millennial moment more than other moments; that’s what has to happen. So don’t ask about 2010—build it. That’s what we say.
Talk about millennial change: what’s gone on in the past ten years while we’ve been quietly debating the Internet and whether we should or shouldn’t get email—if you’re standing off from another planet looking at what’s gone on, the machines have become telepathic! Ten years ago the machines were as connected to each other as paperweights and silverware around the world is connected to each other. But we turned on the juice during the 1990s, and now vast amounts of information moves undetected by human minds, never seen by human minds. Decisions like: how much oil should be pumped out of the pumping stations at Abu Dhabi into the waiting freighters so that the arrival of petroleum byproducts in the Los Angeles market is such that there is neither too much or too little, the setting of the world price of gold, the world rate at which we extract bauxite and potassium and these things. These are decisions all made now by computers.