Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back in my days - a short story

Back in my days things were much simpler. You never think you will become old enough to hold that thought but, if you are lucky, you do. Only now that I'm turning 80 I can understand and accept it as a fact of life. As a still relative young man (of, let's say, 45, in the period before oil ran out) I was arrogant and impatient with people who couldn't keep up with the times. Truth is, it was all due to luck. As a kid, back in Italy, I had stumbled upon the first "home computers" and took a shine to them. It could have happened with chess or stamp collecting, but chess and stamp collecting didn't change the world, while computers did. I found myself on the cusp of a wave I rode it as long as I could.
I wasn't as lucky with the next wave, though. When the first Personal Genetic Synthesizers became available I was simply terrified. What if, I thought, I make a genotyping mistake? The young replied that technology poses problems but also gives the means to deal with them, and they went on happily genotyping away with their agile tentacles, which of course they had self-mutated for that very purpose.
Then the Interwet came. At first it sounded like a joke, but every technology takes from the previous one the metaphors it needs to imagine itself. Back in my days we took the world of ink and paper and we imagined the email, word-processing, the pages of the web. The pioneers of the Interwet just went a step further. I don't know who first though that the metaphor of something "going viral" might be pushed to a completely new level, but the first real virus to carry a message in its DNA simply spelled "QUERTYIOP", which was clearly a homage. Now each of us is an Interwet page, in which messages of all sorts replicate, fight each other, mutate, move to other pages across increasingly contagious links.
As an old man, I still don't know what to make of it. What I do understand, though, is that every technology is a response to the fear of death, it's an attempt to achieve some permanence: the pyramids, writing, the press, computers. As a young techno-utopian I once dreamed that digital technology could give us immortality, that we could upload ourselves onto an everlasting cyber-paradise. That dream came to nothing but, just like with waves, soon every broken dream is followed by a new one. As skeptical as I might be, I don't have any other option than trying to share it. The end might be near, but may these words (and with them all the other words I ever wrote or spoke, all my thoughts and my memories) long live inside your bodies.