Look at Lewis, who is most certainly a ‘wired’ young man, but who who does things that only quite incidentally use the internet. He plants messages around his home town for people, and uses a URL as a kind of meeting place for the people whose only commonality is finding one of his messages. He uses the internet to encourage total strangers to give him a ring. On a phone. Like in the olden days.
I wonder if we’re a bit bored of the Promise of Endless Possibilities of the Web. I think it’s good to be bored of things, though. I am bored of everything, many times a day – which sounds negative, but in my experience is an excellent way to work out what you want to make today.
It seems a bit extreme, but I found myself wondering: can the internet be bypassed altogether? This attitude has almost become a subcategory of survivalism. Maybe we need special Scouts and Guides groups to teach kids to keep the old ways alive in the event of mass technological apocalypse, to reconnect with our old methods of connection. They could learn to write and post letters by hand (trust me, the postal service will still be running after The Event). They could write diaries and draw on paper and paste newspapers together from stuff they’ve written on typewriters and real photos.
Circumnavigating the web seems to tie in with all the stuff I’m seeing at the moment about the Internet of Things, although in some ways what I’m talking about is sort of the opposite. I don’t want to help the internet to quantify the stuff in the physical world. I don’t want to inject some communication A.I into a product. For sure, those things are interesting and cool, but to me the challenge is – how do we get from A to B without using any internets at all? I mean, I’m not mental. I don’t want to be an Amish – we can bring the internets in later. They have a function, like Lewis’s simple blog/twitter system, to amalgamate and broadcast results once the real world thing is done. We spend an awful lot of time saying ‘How can we make X more interactive?’ when what we mean is ‘How can we get an online audience engaged with this?’ But interactive used to mean other things too.
See, the point of Lewis’s project has nothing to do with the internet. The internet is reduced to a kind of Town Crier. It’s a good medium for headlines. I suspect the internet works nicely to facilitate these ‘human coming together’ stories because there’s such a striking contrast between it, with its insistence on obliterating all evidence of individuality*, and the physical world and the real people in it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when all we have is 140 characters and an 40×40 icon, we have to think a bit harder about the people than we used to.
But even more excitingly for those of us not as interested in people as we should be, there’s also the great challenge of reviving what has been supplanted by the internet. What can we do with phones? With newspapers? With radios? With film cameras? With telly? When the internet goes, what’s left? And is it OK if we find the rest, actually, quite a lot more fun?**
* Oh you know, this is just me being, you know.
** And then use the internet to show it off afterwards?