chapter  26
Network Fever
Pages 23

We are constantly surrounded by talk of networks. Every third message, article, and advertisement seems to be about one network or another. We are surrounded, that is, by talk on networks about networks. It is as if our technologies feed on a kind of narcissistic self-reflection. Everyone has become a kind of expert, ready to discuss the different types of nets (computer, television, telephone, airline, radio, beeper, bank ... ) or scales (global, national, infra, local, home ... ) or modes (cable, wireless, digital, optical ... ). And where would we be without our opinions about the Internet, a net of nets against which all others are now referenced? How many ways do we have to express our amazement at such a vast space in which any address is just a few clicks away from all the others? Attaching oneself to a seemingly marginal thread soon accesses an endlessly dense weave, as if a walk down a quiet country lane would suddenly bring one to the heart of a metropolis of unprecedented dimensions. In celebrating this new kind of territory, we recast questions of individual identity in terms of unimaginable levels of connectivity, ignoring the equally dramatic rise of new forms of inaccessibility to stage an institutionalized simulation of euphoria in which discourse about openness, democracy, free exchange, and speed dominates over that of control, surveillance, blockage, sedation, and crime. l

The message is clear. Nowhere escapes the net. A map of all the webs passing through any particular space would be impossibly dense. Invisible networks seemingly threaten visible means of defining space, dissolving the walls of buildings. The architecture of borders, walls, doors, and locks gives way to that of passwords, fire walls, public key encryption, and security certificates. Indeed, the idea of a space occupied by networks or superimposed by them has been replaced by that of overlapping networks within which physical space only appears as a fragile artifact or effect. Space itself can only be seen when caught in the net. It is as if the modern perforation and lightening up of architecture in the face of speed, industrialized technology, and mass production at the turn of the twentieth century has gone a step farther as buildings dissolve into information flow, to be either discarded as a relic of a previous time or nostalgically preserved as a quaint memento.