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NEW post on DES: From Old Paris to a New Internet
In a now somewhat dated book titled Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the way we Create and Communicate, author Steven Johnson invokes the disorderly nature of Old Paris, with its winding streets and unpredictable neighborhoods, as a metaphor for the Internet. Old Paris was built from the ground up, organically; in piecemeal according to those that lived on and traveled its streets. This works incredibly well with our conception of the Internet and its democratic ideals: It is the people who use it. Norms and values on the Internet were/are created unpredictably, vibrantly, and, at times, chaotically. But then, staying with the metaphor, Paris was rebuilt to heighten its efficiency, to make travel easier. Here, Johnson’s comparison stops. But there is an aspect of this metaphor that is beginning to hold true to our current Internet. Paris wasn’t merely rebuilt to improve travel—it was also rebuilt to bring a greater sense of control to Napoleon III. The streets were remade so that dissent and uprising could be found and squashed more quickly and efficiently. The local knowledge that reigned supreme in the haphazard street layout of the old city was now debunked by a new administrated system of purely functional streets and pathways that allowed for quick orientation and unhindered maneuverability. Gone were the random, casual encounters of Old Paris’ public life, replaced with grand boulevards meant to merely move people from one place to another. This seems more like where the Internet is headed today.