Requiem for the Network
Catalyzing the Future
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.
Illusions depend a great deal upon not being in full possession of the facts. To see the kaiju eiga genre as the obsession of a culture repeatedly rehearsing its unvoiced fears of nuclear obliteration or natural catastrophe is to explain little and to obscure a great deal more. It is also an attitude based upon a very selective view of Japan’s filmic output. For example, in the decade that witnessed the rise of Godzilla, films explicitly confronting Japan’s continuing nuclear nightmare, such as Kaneto’s Shindo’s Children of Hiroshima and Lucky Dragon No. 5, were also being released. Ishiro Honda himself had visited Hiroshima in 1946 and had wanted to convey in Gojira some of the horrors which he experienced there. Unfortunately, the film’s references to bomb shelters, Nagasaki and its pleas for nuclear disarmament were deleted from the English-language version by its American distributors. Godzilla, however, had already selected a very different target for himself. It was a disaster area still waiting to happen, and each time he returned to it, he became more a part of its future than its past.From Tokyo Must Be Destroyed: Dreams of Tall Buildings and Monsters, written after the Kobe Earthquake, 1995
By 1945, Allied air raids had reduced most of Tokyo to smoking embers. Its predominantly wooden buildings had burned easily, resulting in the destruction of three-quarters of a million houses and the deaths of 100,000 of the city’s inhabitants. A further three million were left homeless. Today, as well as being one of the principal centres of world economic activity, the greater Tokyo area also houses an astonishing 25% of Japan’s entire population. This vast urban sprawl has come to be regarded by many as the ultimate megalopolis: the first city of the 21st Century. The planners and engineers responsible for its safety have also described it as a ‘disaster amplification mechanism’: a term which could just as easily be applied to Godzilla himself.
There is, however, something both reassuring and unsettling about the Tokyo which Honda and Tsuburaya had Godzilla smash so repeatedly. It never changed. No matter how far into the future the films were set, Tokyo always returned looking the same. In a universe increasingly populated by alien invaders, female psychics, killer androids and giant mecha, Tokyo’s vast centre-less sprawl seemed to expand into time and space, eternally rising unchanged from its own rubble. The more Godzilla demolished it, the more it came back, determined to survive.