The changes are subtle yet profound. They did not start with the computer. The changes began with the camera and other film-based media, and the Internet has had an exponential effect on that change. The result is a leveling of visual information, whereby it all assumes the same characteristics. One loss is a sense of scale.
Another is a loss of differentiation between materials, and the process of making. Art objects contain a dynamism based on scale and physicality that produces a somatic response in the viewer. The powerful visual experience of art locates the viewer very precisely as an integrated self within the artist's vision.
With the flattening of visual information and the randomness of size inherent in reproduction, the significance of scale is eroded. Visual information becomes based on image alone. Experience is replaced with facsimile. As admittedly useful as the Internet is, easy access to images of everything and anything creates a false illusion of knowledge and experience. The world pictured as pictures does not deliver the experience of art seen and experienced physically. It is possible for an art-experienced person to "translate" what is seen online, but the experience is necessarily remote.
As John Berger pointed out, the nature of photography is a memory device that allows us to forget. Perhaps something similar can be said about the Internet. In terms of art, the Internet expands the network of reproduction that replaces the way we "know" something.
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It replaces experience with facsimile. The Internet is producing a fundamental alteration in the relationship between knowledge, content, place and space. If we consider the world as divided into two similarly populous halves: the ones born before and the ones born after — of course there are other important differences such as gender, race, class, ethnicity, geography, etc.
I am responding to this question from Funes, a locality of 15, inhabitants in the core of the Argentine Pampas country side. Five other users are here. A man on a Facebook page posting photos of a baby and a trip and myself, a 42 year-old architect on vacation with an assignment due in two hours!
I am the elder here. I am the nonlocal here. Yet the computer helps me and corrects my spelling without asking anyone. Years ago when I was an architectural student and wanted to know about, say, Guarino Guarini's importance as an architect, I would go two flights down the stairs at Avery Library, get a few cards, follow the numbered instructions on those index cards and find, two or four or seven feet worth of books in a shelf dedicated to the subject I would leaf through all the found books and get a vague, yet physical sense of how much there was to know about the subject matter. Now I Google "Guarino Guarini", and in 0.
My Google search is both very detailed yet not at all physical. I can't tell how much I like this person's personality or work. I can't decide if I want to flip through more entries. I am in a car traveling from New York to Philadelphia. I have GPS but no maps. The GPS announces where to go and takes into account traffic and tolls. In that other trip I had a map, I entered the city from a bridge, the foreground was industrial and decrepit the background was vertical and contemporary I zoom out the GPS to see if the GPS map reveals an alternative entry route, a different way the city geography can be approached.
Nothing in the GPS map looks like the space I remember. What happened? Is my memory of the place faulty or is the focus of the GPS too narrow? If decisions take into account the many ways in which information comes to us then the internet at this point privileges what we can see and read over many other aspects of knowledge and sensation. How much something weights, how does it feels, how stable it is.
Are we, the ones that knew places before the internet, more able to navigate them now or less? Do we make better or worse decisions based on the content we take in? Do we have longer better rests in far away places or constant place-less-ness? How have image, space, place and content been altered to give us a sense of here and now? I believe that the history of time has been impacted by several enormous inventions.
First was the watch which unified man's concept of measurement of time. It is interesting to note that China was the last country to join the rest of the world in embracing the clock. It was chairman Mao who brought in this drastic change, among others. The invention of photography created several concrete displacements of our perception of the past.
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The world was quick to accept the photograph as a forcible document containing absolute evidence. This concept endured until sometime in the s when the photograph was no longer accepted in courts of law. From my point of view the next great watershed that influenced our perception of time has been the arrival of the Internet.
I know that it certainly speeds things up etc. I believe that there is a metaphysical element that surely the mystics could define. But for me the most blatant phenomena is that my life has to an extent compressed to the extent that I am not only aging in the conventional sense but also not aging, due to the fact that rather than losing information with the passing of "time" I am in fact accruing more and more information. I remain indifferent to the entire event of place as it is experienced by young arrivals to the planet who find the most concrete forms of reality floating upon the surface of their computer display.
The idea of an Internet without some form of computer device is, for the time being, out of reach. Thus the Internet and the computer are married in some ethereal place, as yet undefined. As an amateur musician I find the Internet linked in time with the nature of music itself. I can hear it now. The Internet first appeared long after I had received my Ph. I had been trained in physical library search techniques: look up the subject in Science Abstracts a journal itself now made defunct by the Internet , then go to the archived full article in the physical journal shelved nearby.
I no longer have to go to the library; I can access the SCI and the online journals via the Internet. These Internet versions of journals and Abstracts have one disadvantage at present: my university can afford only a limited window for the search. I can use the SCI only back ten years, and most e-journals have not yet converted their older volumes to online format, or if they have, my university can often not afford to pay for access to these older print journals.
So the Internet causes scientific knowledge to become obsolete faster than was the case with the older print media. A scientist trained in the print media tradition is aware that there is knowledge stored in the print journals, but I wonder if the new generation of scientists, who grow up with the Internet, are aware of this.
Also, print journals were forever. They may have merely gathered dust for decades, but they could still be read by any later generation. I can no longer read my own articles stored on the floppy discs of the 's. Computer technology has changed too much.
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Will information stored on the Internet become unreadable to later generations because of data storage changes, and the knowledge lost? At the moment the data is accessible. More importantly, the raw experimental data is becoming available to theorists like myself via the Internet. It is well known from the history of science that experimentalists quite often do not appreciate the full significance of their own observations. Now that the Internet allows the experimenter to post her data, we theorists can individually analyze it.
Let me give an example from my own work. Standard quantum mechanics asserts that an interference pattern of electrons passing through a double slit must have a certain distribution as the number of electrons approaches infinity. However, this same standard quantum mechanics does not give an exact description of the rate at which the final distribution will be approached. Many-Worlds quantum mechanics, in contrast, gives us a precise formula for this rate of approach, since according to Many-Worlds quantum mechanics, physical reality is not probabilistic at all, but more deterministic than the universe of classical mechanics.