The bottom line, Williams said, is that the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” It’s not a utopia. It’s not magical. It’s simply an engine of convenience. Those who can tune that engine well – who solve basic human problems with greater speed and simplicity than those who came before – will profit immensely. Those who lose sight of basic human needs – who want to give people the next great idea – will have problems.
A British man, Lee Beaumont, annoyed by constant telephone calls from local marketers, set up his own premium phone line, meaning cold callers contacting him are paying a… premium to do so. Now earning a little money from the idea, he is keen that telemarketers call him more often:
The number of calls received by Mr Beaumont has fallen from between 20 and 30 a month to just 13 last month. Because he works from home, Mr Beaumont has been able to increase his revenue by keeping cold callers talking – asking for more details about their services.
Concerned that the Soviet Union might somehow disable cable based means of communication, the US military, at the height of the Cold War, proposed launching millions of small copper wires into Earth orbit, to create an antenna of sorts that would allow communication by radio to continue uninterrupted:
A potential solution was born in 1958 at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, a research station on Hanscom Air Force Base northwest of Boston. Project Needles, as it was originally known, was Walter E. Morrow’s idea. He suggested that if Earth possessed a permanent radio reflector in the form of an orbiting ring of copper threads, America’s long-range communications would be immune from solar disturbances and out of reach of nefarious Soviet plots. Each copper wire was about 1.8 centimeters in length. This was half the wavelength of the 8 GHz transmission signal beamed from Earth, effectively turning each filament into what is known as a dipole antenna.
It may have been the nineteenth century, but there are no shortages of sock puppets, catfish, and people who, in real life, aren’t quite who they seemed to be “on the line”…
By this point, Nattie had pretty much fallen in love with “C” after many days and evenings of telegraphic courtship. Then one day she gets reverse catfished. A creepy dude shows up at her telegraphic office and claims that he’s “C”. This isn’t true; he’s actually someone who worked alongside “C” in “C”s office, and who learned about Nattie and decided to pay a visit. But at this point, Nattie doesn’t know this. He’s such a creep that Nattie shooes him away and falls into a funk. How, she wonders, could somebody be so delightful “on the line” and so nasty in person?
There was also a time, I am told, when staying in touch was difficult. Exes were characters from a foreclosed past, symbols from former and forgone lives. Now they are part of the permanent present. I was a college freshman when Facebook launched. All my exes live online, and so do their exes, and so do their exes, too. I carry the population of a metaphorical Texas in a cell phone on my person at all times. Etiquette can’t keep up with us – not that we would honor it anyway – so ex relationships run on lust and impulse and nosiness and envy alternating with fantasy. It’s a dozen soap operas playing at the same time on a dozen different screens, and you are the star of them all. It’s both as thrilling and as sickening as it sounds.
Nothing has changed of course. In the “old days”, using a phone directory, or electoral roll, you’d track down an ex, and even if they lived interstate, you’d travel to their town, with a friend. Said friend would knock at ex’s door apparently looking for someone they believed was living there.
The ex, being a decent person, would invite the roving friend in, while they tried to “sort out” what became of the seemingly erstwhile resident. This allowed the friend – who was clearly averse to taking a risk or three – to see how ex was living, and if applicable, who with.
Once the requisite information had been obtained, the friend would then make her excuses and leave, staying she’d figure out another way to locate her itinerant pal.
That sort of thing wasn’t quite my style though, finding out the name of the bar an “ex” worked at, and then showing up, apparently at random, was more like it. Did it once, working with only a first name, sans search engines and internet, in a city of eight plus million people, and twelve months after first/last contact.
Turned out there were two bars with the same name in the same neighbourhood, I reached the wrong one first, playing the new kid in town who was, you know, going to be hanging around, you know, a lot. Or at least until a certain person’s shift started. They are working, today, this week, sometime, aren’t they?
What a hoot that was. I’m sorry, but social media just doesn’t match the thrill of doing something like that.
Indulgences these days are granted to those who carry out certain tasks – such as climbing the Sacred Steps, in Rome (reportedly brought from Pontius Pilate’s house after Jesus scaled them before his crucifixion), a feat that earns believers seven years off purgatory. But attendance at events such as the Catholic World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro, a week-long event starting on 22 July, can also win an indulgence. Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media. “That includes following Twitter,” said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.”
Photos, once slices of a moment in the past – sunsets, meetings with friends, the family vacation – are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue. The cutting-edge crowd is learning that communicating with a simple image, be it a picture of what’s for dinner or a street sign that slyly indicates to a friend, “Hey, I’m waiting for you,” is easier than bothering with words, even in a world of hyper-abbreviated Twitter posts and texts.
A physicist, a mathematician and an engineer stay in a hotel. The engineer is awakened by a smell and gets up to check it. He finds a fire in the hallway, sees a nearby fire extinguisher and after extinguishing it, goes back to bed. Later that night, the physicist gets up, again because of the smell of fire. He quickly gets up and sees the fire in the hallway. After calculating air pressure, flame temperature and humidity as well as distance to the fire and projected trajectory, he extinguishes the fire with the least amount of fluid. At last, the mathematician awakes, only again to find a fire in the hallway. He instantly sees the extinguisher and thinks, “A solution exists!”, and heads back into his room.