‘Heads in the Clouds’, the fifth and final essay in my series for Radio 3, Requiem for the Network, goes out tonight, March 25, at 23.00hrs.
A map of central Europe drawn up in the 12th century could still show post roads established five hundred years previously upon what remained of the old Roman road system. Since then technical engineering has increasingly shaped moments of social and cultural transition. From the earliest centralized networks, when all roads led to and from Rome, to the decentralized networks of the European Enlightenment all the way through the distributed networks of the nuclear age, our paths have never stayed the same for very long. The networks might soon be replaced by ‘cloud computing’, a method of data storage which will allow you to access data from any terminal, anywhere, at any time. The meteorological metaphor seems appropriate: as data becomes another constantly-shifting element in our global environment. But doesn’t being anywhere also mean being nowhere?
The Wire asked me to make a statement about ‘Requiem for the Network’, so here it is:
The aim of this series of short essays has been to develop new critical perspectives on the profound changes brought about by networks in human development – it was a theme I had been working on in a number of lectures I have been giving to postgraduate communication design students at Central St Martins and elsewhere. Networks are both a form of architecture and a communications medium at the same time, which can lead to some quite vague thinking with regard to their power and effects. It does not, therefore, surprise me that the Network – usually understood as the Internet – is being treated with the same cheery and enthusiastic innocence that greeted electronic media like TV, radio and computers in the 1960s. That’s why my series of talks takes the form of a requiem - to lay some of this more optimistic thinking to rest. I am not making this argument in order to disparage networks or to present them in negative terms - it’s too late for that in any case. I am presenting these talks in the hope that people will take the Network more seriously and think about its history and development a little more critically. The Network continues to change our lives, but we’re not really taking the time to understand how or why this is happening.Essays one, two, three and four from the series are currently available from BBC i-Player - each one, however, will only be available for seven days after the date of original broadcast. Thanks for listening.
Pictured above: KH in the studio at Henry Wood House – Is that it? Can I go now?