Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Tony Allen - Global Village Idiot

Lofty Tones

Tony Allen, Global Village Idiot, contemplates joyriding on the information superhighway

Squall 13, Summer 1996, pg. 56.

As the information revolution fast-forwards the species into cultural Babel, intimate live performance takes on a new potency.

Live Performance

Intimate live entertainment. Direct personal communication Eh? Eye contact. There should be more of it?

I was only saying the very same thing last night to Freda colon demon-dot backslash intervid UK.

Up yer modem, round yer data base, and all for the price of a local call? You seen my phone bill, talk about telephone numbers.

Are you on line? Tony Blair has pledged a future Labour Government to get everyone in the country on line. There’s been no similar pledge on housing. So: “Vote Labour - Home pages for the homeless!”

I’m not on line myself, but I know a few buffs who are and I often find myself round a mate’s house at four in the morning, staring into a screen perusing some esoteric document or graphic that’s been down-loaded for me from the other side of the planet.

It’s not exactly surfing, it’s more like paddling about up the shallow end with a rubber ring, wearing an Edwardian stripey one piece and knotted hanky.

Soon Mr Blair’a stake-holder society will deliver my hardware. In the meantime I’m on a serious learning curve checking the potential ramifications of his pending info-fest.

Alongside Johnny and Joanne punter every day now more and more diverse organisations have a presence on the Net: from media archives to virtual shopping malls, most of them, if they are not pushing a product, have got an angle. The good news is that the free-range loonies - the much aligned “nerds” - got in early and have been very creative with the street plans and the architecture. Cyberspace is loophole city and the imaginative thwarting of interfering laws from outside has the status of art.

But it’s not all high-minded pursuit on the super highway. I was schmoozing some high-tech lig recently and got introduced to the tabloid end of interactivity - America On Line. My first problem was a Name. Five letters. So I wrote “Tony A”. I get a reply immediately. “Hello Tonya! What are you wearing?” Whoops! Never upper case the “A”. My mate laughs and urges me to reply. I type the old Groucho Marx line...Tm dressed to kill which is the last thing I want to do.” I’ve not really been paying attention to what I’m getting into here, because suddenly I’ve attracted loads of correspondents with a wide range of very dull chat up lines the best of which is “Hi Tonya you give good interface.”

But who were they? They could be the suits standing at the work station next to me or a bunch of kids crowded round a desktop PC in a 5th form physics lab in Papau New Guinea. This is fabulous technology going on here. I stop and ponder the evolution of global consciousness from the development of language to the written word, the first technological revolution of the printing press, then the discovery of electricity - telephone, photography, radio, through to the marvels of transmitting moving pictures, the talkies, television, video, computers and micro-technology and then the convergence of all these wonders into the interactive information super highway of the late 20th Century. And here I am at the cutting edge of the whole shebang and what exactly am I doing with it? I appear to have joined “Wankers of the World Unite” and I’m role-playing a virtual cock- teaser with some nerd/nonce somewhere in cyberspace who is doubtless engaged in... well, whatever it is, it all seems very sad.

Distribution

Ever since the mass availability of the old reel to reel tape recorders we’ve been able to make our own home sound recordings: Interviews with Granny, comedy sketches and primitive rock albums. Cassette recorders made all this even easier. The only problem came when we tried to distribute our efforts. The record companies and BBC radio controlled the outlets and the the Government legislated against the pirates and the independents.

Likewise when video arrived the film and telly companies controlled distribution and were there to filter, censor and demand compromise before accepting anything. In the 80s all that home computers with their tasty printers appeared to be doing was reinventing the printing press. Desktop publishing distributed by the GPO gave us well produced junk mail. But the digital revolution went on to reinvent and synthesise all the previous media technology, and provide, gratis, a universal distribution system.

How long before your very own customised version of the News At Ten? How long before the advertising infrastructure of television crumbles? Five years? Two years? Already technoanarchists proclaim that intellectual property is theft! Soon everyone will be able to make their own movie, freely sample the vast global archive and television controllers will be two a penny.

Civilisation

And every one of us will have access to all the archive footage of any event plus all the movies made about it and stuff written, broadcast and vox- popped. Every village, town and city, every pop song, sit-com and blockbuster; every anniversary, centenary, and blip in history: all available for us to check out and then if we wish to plagiarise, edit, expand, distort and redistribute...

A lateral overview of all this musak, newsak and viewsak sees a planet of billions of busy people all doing much the same thing: all glued to their screens in a great semi-conscious conspiracy to continually rewrite the rewriting of history so that it all dovetails neatly into the ludicrous conclusion that we are now, now - what the politicians refer to as “this moment in time “ - now, all of us, living at the finely-honed, cutting-edge of progress. Bollocks. When a civilisation dies its whole life flashes in front of it.