(Business Standard gladdened my heart by asking all its columnists on the Weekend section to crystal-gazing. This was my take on the shape of the Internet circa 2010.)
Yeah, I know how the script’s supposed to go. You’re woken by Ali Farkatoure, picked at random from your IPod and set as an alarm on the Blackberry; as you roll out of bed, the IntelFridge SMSes Lalaji to say he’d better deliver tomato juice and eggs in ten minutes; Mozilla Firefox’s TheCompetitionsToast service has programmed the toaster to produce perfect, honey-coloured slices of bread at the right time.
Gmail’s GMom service has already prescreened the day’s email and sent responses to several by using its database of most-often-used responses, your Concall screen is set tactfully to voice-only so that the buyers from Narita can hear your clipped accents and see your spiffy avatar instead of the real you in the shabby housecoat with slept-in hair.
Your relatives from Shekhawat are arriving at four pm, but you’ve Our Planeted and Google Earthed the directions to all their PDAs and the cabbie’s cell. And you’ve pre-bought extra credits for the latest SickCity Role-Playing Game so that cousin Munna can engage in virtual shootouts with the LAPD instead of driving everyone crazy. Work’s going well: the competition will take a while recovering from the hijacking of their wireless network, the first use you’ve made this year of the UBully service. You might use UBully again, but there’s this neat offer from the local boys at Hi-Bandit Network…
Wake up and smell the Java, it’s burning to a frizzle. Come 2010, the Net’s going to be a) faster and b) unpredictable. Back when the music industry was screaming its guts out over music downloads, no one predicted the iPod; three years ago, when an amusing curiosity called the Wiki popped up, no one predicted that it would become the world’s default encylopaedia—and no one predicted today’s Wiki wars, as users vie to get their version of truth, lies and statistics on record. No one predicted the rise of blogs; no one knows how far podcasts and vlogs (video blogs) or collablogs (collaborative blogs) will take the medium. No one predicted that the biggest challenge to Microsoft and Explorer would come from a small operation called Mozilla Firefox. On the plus side, several experts did predict the shift of the Net from the desktop to mobile services, the rise of voice communications and the steady march of spam.
Some of the stuff outlined in that cozy vision of Internet 2010 will happen—but whoever writes the script for the web of the future is likely to be more Charles Addams than Disney. Here’s a tour of some of the exhibits you might find in the bad new world.
http://www.spamuseum.art. It was only in 2009 that art critic R’Ash Li vlogged his pathbreaking insight into spam as great art. He saw spammers, a reviled, despised community, as the last torchbearers of genuine creativity, reexamined the semiotics of the original Nigerian Scam letters and reframed them as the elegant anti-hegemonistic pleas of the dispossessed. Dubbing spam the great Dada, or Boro-Dada, movement of its times, he started the Spamuseum. Here you can find the early drafts of the Penis Patch poems, the angst of a civilization revealed in the haiku-like pitches for time-share estates, university degrees and Rolex watches. Since the early wave of amateur phishers, hackers and virus-creators was replaced in 2007 by government-approved corporate hacks, legitimate spyware and pre-approved bank phishes, the nostalgia for spam has been growing. Spamuseum is doing well, though the Boro-Dada movement has been rocked by Mej-Dada, the breakaway group who want equal recognition for chain letter creators and joke forwarders.
www3.silentnight.org . From the Manifesto of the first Silent Nighters: “We hailed Voice Chat, not knowing that in Skype and Google Talk, verily, we had sealed our doom; we sayeth aye to streaming radio when we shouldest have sayeth nay; in the darkness of our ignorance we moved from the written to the spoken word and the Lord Our God visited the Tower of Babel upon us in Her Wrath. Our PDAs chatter, our portable flatscreen folders maketh unceasing noise, advertisements and jingles pour out of every mobile device. This hell is of our making—unmake it. Say no to voice, return your Screens to the God-given Silence of the Berner-Lee era; come back to the purity of lines of chat on the azure blue of the Telnet screen. Take the Vow of the Mute Button with us.” Though initially popular, the Silent Nighters were helpless against the wave of sound—voice chat, podcasts, ads, music, soundtracks, conferencing—that drowned the silent Net. They may still be around, but they’re keeping mum on their future plans.
http://WhoAmI.blogspot.com Not to be confused with the popular WhoAreWe site, for victims of multiple personality disorder, WhoAmI was started by Blogger ?. This legendary unfortunate had been subjected to repeated attacks of online identity theft, until finally in late 2007, he was informed by two governments, his bank, his old school, his wife, his office and serendipitously, the Income Tax Department, that he did not exist. “We live online; our identities are virtual; our Amazon Shopping History, our RSS feeds, our passwords, our porn preferences, our birth, marriage and death certificates, our employee histories are all a click away. Lose that identity, as I did, and you will pass from confusion to acceptance and finally, receive enlightenment.”
WhoAmI is the top blog of 2010. It has attracted and enfranchised those erased by mistake from their bank’s records, those erased deliberately by bitter ex-lovers and those who had their IDs—traumatically—overwritten by the IDs of wanted terrorists of the same name or body type. Its sister dating site, WeToo, is hugely popular but ran into controversy when it was discovered several people had dated rogue avatars from multiplayer games who were taking refuge at WhoAmI. Conflict resolution is impossible—forget the identity of the accused, the identity of the victims has never been established to anyone’s satisfaction.
http://CCR/riotpage/memorial.htm One of the darkest pages in the history of the web has found a permanent bookmark here. Call centre employees, for long the happiest coolies in the history of the labour movement, felt stigmatized when they became the only group of humans to be officially “deskshackled”. Because of the nature of their work, they were banned from using mobile devices or flatscreen folders, becoming the only workers left on earth who actually had to use desktop computers.
They secretly joined forces with the Laddite movement—anti-child labour activists protesting the practice of implanting PDAs in children’s hands so that they could put in longer working hours. On May 1, 2010, the infamous Call Centre Revolt started with the burning of desktop machines, but rapidly went out of control. By the end of the day, 17 Grade 1B Arties (Artificial Intelligence beings, allowed to have bank accounts and marry but not vote), 46 Hello Dolly clones and one self-help seminar expert had been terminated. Except for the self-help seminarian, naturally, the rest were deeply mourned. Call Centre employees are now allowed to use flexiscreens, but are given the option of being legshackled to prevent free movement or wearing sound implants that blast Rabbi Remixed Rap at them if they try to sneak out of the centre—99 per cent opted for the shackles.