Five pages to print off

24 August 2006

Matt Jones asked us what we’d print out from the Internet when it went down for good. I spent a while mulling this over; like Tom, I came to few conclusions. But I wrote some ideas down.

Anyhow, it’s now August 24th, and I’m going to Barcelona for a week tomorrow (because I desperately need a holiday). So I thought I’d just put up what

1) Something on how to make batteries
– Jones has stolen all the useful stuff, and besides, books still exist. Electronics may be dead, but electricals are going to be very useful. Batteries aren’t so hard to make (although they’re not exactly going to be Energizer standard), and might turn out handy. Also, it’s the kind of knowledge I can trade for more useful things.

2) Having remembered to use Flickr properly, dump out a nice flickrToys page of my favourites.

3) Print out everything unread in my RSS account.

4) Print out the huge single page which is every blogpost I’ve ever made (and which, for the sake of argument, resides in secret on my server.

– so, I was racking my brains about what to print out from the Internet that wouldn’t be available in any of the many libraries. I had a really hard time. Most things I was thinking of were available elsewhere – it’s just I came to them via the Internet because, well, it was more immediate, it had search. So there’s not much that only exists in Wikipedia, or Gutenberg, or even the web. And what I can think of that is uniquely online is either experience – be it Flash, or something like Flickr (where the value is not in the content, but the interactions; not in one page, but in the social links and relationships represented across many) – or things like the cartoon strips I read that would never really get published apart from on the web.

Hence why I’m printing out my social interactions – my memories of “the Internet” as a place, rather than any unique information it could offer me. Silicon may be dead in Matt’s dystopia, but books aren’t. I’m planning to ransack the Cambridge University Library pretty much the second the bombs start falling – hopefully it’ll be a less popular target than the British Library.

(Talking this over with Alex, she also said that actually, in an Internet-free-world, that was a great idea; she wanted a wing in the Library of Congress or the British Library just for blogs – everyone prints their own blog, binds it, and hands it over. It’s not about saving the high-value content – it’s about saving all the content people make, just like any copyright library does with books. If the internet’s gone, we should be saving as much of the unique content on it as possible, rather than stuff that might just exist somewhere else; if everyone chose a blog as one of their five pages (because you can probably dump the entire contents to one, massive, page), we’d save so much – not just in the content, but in the blockquotes, in the excerpts, in the criticism, in the memes, in the anecdotes, and in the stories. I’m glad it wasn’t just me being egocentric, then).

5) The original Yahoo homepage. (Actually, the original is a bit too spartan, but this one is a better bet

– Possibly my “slightly up-oneself” entry. I’m interested in this because before the search engines, the web wasn’t searched; it was explored. Yahoo found you things by cataloguing what was out there. Very Dewey-Decimal way of thinking. But I want that original list of categories, if only to remember that this was the structure that much of the Web began with; this was how somebody imposed order on the system in the early days. It’s easier to extrapolate from an ordered beginning. So I want to keep that fragment of the early architecture of the web so that I can remember how it all began – when that was “all it was” – and remember that it all grew from there.

After all, silicon may be dead, and the world might be ending, but once you’ve had widespread shared knowledge, it’s hard to go back. Somehow, we’ll work out how to build another Internet – even though it might be slower, mostly-off, and not very neutral. When we do, I want those categories, just to compare the new effort to.

To conclude: it’s a bloody hard question and I feel my answers aren’t really so good, but at least I tried. And I think it does prove that right now, the Internet is more about the interactions we make than the data therein. Which is Web 2.0, right? So it’s not that the sites themselves are “2.0” or not; maybe it’s the users who’ve demanded more, who’ve been upgraded.

2 comments on this entry.

  • rodcorp | 25 Aug 2006

    Hi Tom,

    It is hard isn’t it. I have only one thing on my list so far.

    The batteries idea is excellent, though something on pedal-powered generation would be similarly useful.

    Perhaps I might print something on the history of group-forming and socio-legislation for informal splintered communities.

    PS: Barca things to do:
    and get Losowsky’s Le Cool book if you have time. Great city. Check opening times for stuff as it’s August. Have fun!

  • Christopher Townson | 10 Sep 2006

    What would I print out from the internet if it was to be “turned off” tomorrow? Nothing!

    I think the question is indicative of bad faith … as if your being and identity was somehow dependent upon the persistent availability of external artifacts.

    Yes, there’s some great stuff on the web and it’s a wonderful utensil for the realisation of certain projectual intentions … if it wasn’t there things would be different, for sure; but things are always “different” (if you see what I mean)!

    The real interest in the question comes not from the actual response but, rather, from what one’s answer implies about the desire and inevitable inability to appropriate the web as a whole alongside a tangible sense of frustration and regret associated with that.

    Perhaps you should use your meditation on the issue to re-focus your current web-related activities, rather than thinking of it as an exercise in some speculative “what if”?

    Your thought about attempting to capture your memories of the internet as a place of social interaction is very intriguing – but misguided, I feel. Somehow, the fact that you would regard that as necessary suggests to me that there is still something insubstantial about those interactions (he says, writing a comment on a blog post!) Perhaps the internet reduces social interactions to such an ephemeral status that, like tourists in a foreign land, we need souvenirs to reassure us that it actually occurred? (I’m playing devil’s advocate here.)

    It’s regrettable, but it would seem that even our relationship with the most dramatic real-world events would seem to have become infected by this impoverished objectification: I was reading only yesterday how onlookers at the attack on the twin towers were collecting ash as a souvenir … as if, even though they were present, it was not something that was actually happening to them. They were distanced from it …

    … I leave you to see the relation between those points and the implications of that.