For those who need to understand how the Web is transforming the way businesses work, yada yada yada
Issue: January 23, 1999
Author/Editor: David Weinberger
Central Meme: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy
Home page: http://www.hyperorg.com
Contact information: Click here.
We were completing our yearly inventory here at JOHO (it's a great chance to give college kids a way to earn a little extra cash) when we discovered that we are way overstocked on articles and snide remarks.
So, as always, we're passing the savings on to you with this special issue! No charge, and don't worry, it won't shorten your subscription.
Plus, it's almost a readable length. What a concept.
Down with Reality
The person staffing the ticket desk asks me: "Do you have an electronic ticket or a real ticket?" Two thousand years of philosophy, and this is what it comes down to.
It's perfectly clear at one level what she meant. A real ticket is made of paper. An electronic ticket is a just notation in a computer that I paid for a seat.
But why think of the paper ticket as "Real"? Why not think of the e-ticket as real?
"Reality" is a value judgment. We think real things are somehow safer than electronic, virtual things. Real things are originals while electronic things are just representations. Real things are longer lasting. Real things don't require some other technology to exist.
All thoughtful points, to which I reply: Oh, yeah?
Let's take those points one by one.
Real things are more secure, safer? This just proves our culture's blind prejudice in favor of reality. Not only can paper tickets be forged, but -- more to the point -- they can be lost, shredded, or dropped into the folder that you threw out when you cleaned out your briefcase (not that that's ever happened to me). You know, paper money is real, but it's safer in the bank where it's stored as electronic information.
Next, we think of real things as the originals. Excuse me? Your paper airline ticket is nothing but a representation of electronic information which is really the original. If you have to choose between losing your ticket or having all record of your reservation wiped out, lose the ticket.
Real things last longer? Electronic records don't get yellowed and crumpled. The ink doesn't smear, the corners don't get dog-eared, and you can't leave them in the pocket of the pants you're about to wash.
Next, real things are independent of sustaining technology? Well, sort of. It's true the paper airline ticket doesn't require a computer for its existence. If the airline's computers go down, the paper tickets don't vanish. .... Or do they? Let's say the computers crash beyond recovery (on or about Jan. 1, 2000, to pick a date totally at random). You still have the piece of cardboard with your flight information, but it's no longer a ticket because the information it represents has gone to meet its Maker. Likewise, if the electronic banking and financial infrastructure totally vanishes in a puff of millennial smoke, your dollar bills won't be dollar bills any more, although they'll come in handy once the looters have squeezed all the Charmin'.
So, now tell me which is more real, the piece of paper or the information it represents? And explain why we insist on talking about what's real in reverent, hushed tones while we relegate the electronic, virtual world to the land of dreams and wishes that don't make things so?
Down with reality! It's a concept whose time has gone.
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