Internet Futures
Alan Sondheim


The following six descriptions briefly outline potential futures of the
Internet. They include "living in cyberspace"; a corporate model with pro-
prietary software allowing multiple open-tasking applications; the "dis-
persed Net" controlling home, office, entertainment, and personal environ-
ments; the hacked Net, requiring extensive firewalling and fast intranet
development; the institutional Net, for scientific/governmental and other
exchanges, including distance education; and the development of intensive
Net communities. None of these signal _the_ future; all of them are in
continuous interaction. Still, it's interesting to speculate on the feel
and phenomenology of the Net a decade or two from now.

I. Seamless Virtual Reality

(I walk in real time in virtual space, interact with others in virtual
space; I'm surrounded by it. This develops out of MOOs and GUI MOOs, as
well as VRML, etc. End result? Living online in an unreal real. It's not
clear what constitutes one or the other - or even what constitutes a
single self in relation to multiple others.)

Living on the holodeck - keywords for escape.
Requirements: Enormous bandwidth, body-suiting, sensory expansions.
Developments: Totalization, escape, perfection, digital repetition
 without loss, noiseless.

II. Window and Multi-Threaded Accumulations

(I'm a corporate middle-manager; my high-speed machine has an average of
fifteen windows open at any one time. These include ongoing audio, video,
and textual conferencing; stock quotations; current news; various other
push technologies. Intelligent agents scan the Net for me; I'm a third
player among agents and windows. Information is porous, through-put. It's
not clear what constitutes a task, job, or conference, and it's even less
clear what constitutes a human or other agent. Selves, real and virtual,
extend throughout fragmented networks.)

Numerous windows open simultaneously in the GUI.
Requirements: Limited bandwidth, traditional inputs.
Developments: Capital expansions and acquisitions, competitions,
 proprietary softwares, noisy.

III. Real-World Dispersions of Digital Part-Objects

(I wear and live among small computers that make life easier, enhance
communications, and create socio-cultural prostheses. I can't tell my self
from the machine at this point - but there's no reason to. My cyborgian
body is continuously monitored; half the information that passes around me
passes through me - and I'm none the wiser. It's no longer clear what con-
stitutes "me," and the old dichotomies of flesh and machine, real and vir-
tual, increasingly break down.)

Micro-processing and full-processing in the lived and workday environment,
 dedicated micro-computers for specific tasks.
Requirements: Limited bandwidth, local wireless telecommunications.
Developments: Within and without the digital realm, parallel processings,
 local micro-usages, espionages, quiescent.

IV. Porous Renegades and Defense Systems

(I live in a world of small networks, defending themselves against digital
wars and other attacks. My information is continually stolen and repro-
duced; I have no control over my finances, personal life, or public life.
Decisions are made for me in my name; most of what comes through the Net
is noise of one sort or another. The wealthy live behind extensive private
networks and firewalls; subscription services with private channels are
the order of the day. It's not clear what constitutes ownership of intell-
ectual property or computer crimes.)

Defense mechanisms for limited bandwidth in the midst of chaos, the hacked
 internet, local and global instabilities and seizures.
Requirements: Programmming knowledge, available bandwith and technology.
Developments: Breakdown of individuation, intellectual property, control,
 tendencies towards intranets and firewalls.

V. Universal, Dispersed Governing / Science and Technology / Education

(The nation-state and its institutions are dissipating, replaced by on-
line institutions with radically different modes of being. Online is
always high-speed; decisions are made and impelemented quickly. Education
and social isolation play important roles in the fabric of the future.
Enormous differences open up between the technological elite and the rest
of us. Managing information flow is critical; it's not clear what consti-
tutes knowledge or what knowledge "means" any more.)

Shared active and potentially legislated knowledges, scientific
 results and searches on demand. Institutionalization. Dispersed learning.
Requirements: Any; full bandwidth for large-scale parallel processing
 (science).
Development: Information exchange, implementations of preferences, fast-
 forward scientific development. 

VI. Communitas

(Me and my friends and lovers are always online. We have flesh-meets,
generated by online experiences. Our communities are formed from mutually-
defined interests; they're self-governing for the most part, and possess
their own servers. They're designed to be as redundant as the original
Net, making it possible to firewall in case of emergency. Sexuality has
become increasingly broadband, and all sorts of new relationships are
tried - to the detriment of the older offline ones. Ethics becomes in-
creasingly situation. It's not clear what constitutes a "reasonable" moral
stance.) 

Shared spaces, knowledges, relationships, sexualities.
Requirements: Any
Development: Intensification of community and shared histories/symbolic
 formations, interpenetration of online and offline behaviors.


_________________________________________________________________________


Internet Futures: Modes


The six futures outlined may be considered _modes of access,_ rather than
implications of specific content. There are qualitative differences among
subjects and subjectivities using seamless virtual reality or multiple
windowing, for example; the same holds true for all six scenarios. I con-
sider communitas a mode as well, since it plays into the distribution of
selves - which is also the case for the holodeck of course.

Think of these modes as _local environments_ playing havoc with local and
global transnational selves and corporations. Economic, libidinal, and
'psychological' flows cross traditional borders (effaced), participate in
borderline symptomologies (weakened), or reify oppositional practices
(strengthened, firewalling). One might speak of the emissions (communi-
cations generalized and dispersed) or spews (hacked communications, par-
asitologies generalized and dispersed) among these selves. If dispersions
are selves (or corporations or or or), then emissions are nodal, apparent-
ly emanating from one or another node; spews seems sourceless, traceless.

The real, the physical local environment, is dispersed as well; here, too,
corporate and personal phenomenologies intermingle. 

The point, however, is to examine the _specifics_ of such environments -
using perhaps the techniques developed by  and others, reworking
and reshaping from routings and trivial evidence through the skein of
individual extensions among constantly mobile and transforming networks. 
Abstraction (such as this) tends only to more abstraction; the scenarios
(modes) lead, on the other hand, to specific points of entry.


_________________________________________________________________________


Internet Pasts


The following apply the categories of Internet Futures to Pasts. These
pasts, in detail, are already described /contested in numerous books and
articles and email lists (discussions, for example, center around military
or civilian models, corporate or individual contributions, the 1940s-1960s
as origins or the telegraph and earlier, the 1970s-1980s as the original
dispersed community or the socius of the eighteenth-century coffeehouse,
etc.). Further, the categories are rear-projections, from the present to
the future, mirrored to the past. What I'm getting at, again, is _modes_
of being, interactivities, epistemologies - making sense of early and
early-middle online behaviors.

I. Textual Virtual Realities

(I live online, inhabit the emails among us, take note of communities
developing through Requests for Comments; later, I play Adventure and
other games; my online and offline communities intermingle. I find my-
self "feeling the wires.")

II. Prompt screens and foreground/background processes, TCP/IP redundan-
cies.

(The screen is my potential; I run several things simultaneously, dis-
tinguished by their process ID. Later, on emacs, I may open several text-
ual windows. Meanwhile, from the beginning, redundancies are the order of
the day; packet-routing networks seem revolutionary in relation to direct
connection technologies. These networks are visible to me; I can follow
nodal mappings, lag times, downed routers.)

III. Real-World Dispersions of Humans among IMPs, Terminals, Screens

(I move from institution to institution, BBN through other nodes; my mind
travels the wires; I play at Eliza from a distance. I'm still aware of the
physicality of it all as computers graduate from core memories and punch-
cards through early hard drives. I work among institutionalized communi-
ties, part and parcel of university, corporate, and government social
worlds, online and off I travel, physically, to Washington, to demonstrate
the new technologies. I am part of the vision. The machines are refrigera-
tor-sized and fierce. No longer primarily computation-oriented, a new em-
phasis is placed on communication.)

IV. Hacking Systems

(Elegance, smaller and smaller algorithms, the aesthetics of programming,
kludging machines together. A rough anarcho-libertarianism prevails; trust
is primary, and these systems simply aren't prepared for the cracking on-
slaughts of a decade or two later. Levey writes about the "hacker aesthe-
tic." Gopher, Usenet, Vernoica, Jughead, Archie, early Web, come into ex-
istence. At this point art/design departments play a very small role; la-
ter, they'll ascend as webdesigners and multi-media experts come into the
corporate playground.)

V. Universal, Dispersed Governing / Science and Technology / Education

(New models of institutional interactions; education and the information
model are primary; entertainment is seen as peripheral. Later the term
"Information Superhighway" will be applied. Technology and Net development
run parallel; bandwidth and user numbers slowly increase. On MOOs and
MUDs, early on, there are questions about governance; distance education
and hypertext philosophically inherit the work of Deleuze/Guattari.)

VI. Communitas

(Shared knowledge spaces develop on all sorts of subjects; even the RFCs
leak into poetry and satire. These "interstitial" texts may be considered
commentaries; they presage future embedded communities. Both communities
and sexualities develop quickly on the early nets; it's unclear to me when
"living online" became a reality for some - what sort of lure, seduction,
interactivity, was necessary to complete the gamble.)

To know more about this author:
http://www.asondheim.org/portal/book