By definition a network is “a large system consisting of many similar parts that are connected together to allow movement or communication between or along the parts, or between the parts and a control center.” The Cambridge Dictionary (source) sums it up pretty neatly, considering the far reaching impacts networks have. The ability to think and organize in network terms is not new to us, it’s in our genes. Like a wolf pack, we too are beings who rather team up, as a family or as acquaintances, once in the wilderness and now on social media. A good and logical strategy which can be found everywhere in nature. While we have not even come close to understanding the complexity of given, natural networks which span from our very own neural network to quantum fields and galaxies, our man-made networks are becoming more compatible and capable by the day. What started off with migration and trade has evolved to become “the network of networks” which is still just a tool, transferring what is thrown on it.
The game changer of our time managed to turn everything upside down in just a few years and wasn’t even imaginable in its current form in 1982. This was ARPANET which adopted TCP/IP on January 1st 1983, from which researchers began to assemble the “network of networks” which would become the internet. The online world then took on a more recognizable form in 1990, when computer scientist Tim Berbers-Lee invented the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the foundation of your daily browsing experience. Since then, computer and data networks and the global digitization process have profoundly changed all aspects of life. What was once described as – cyberspace – (s. TRON, rel. 1982) is today, always and everywhere. Online trade has now reached enormous proportions, with quite questionable consequences. While you still can, you absolutely should shop at your real-time local market and retailer, before these no longer exist. Undeniably, online shopping has its advantages and can get you things you’d otherwise not find, and often at a cheaper price. Even more so, local markets have to be cherished beyond their potential near-future existence as just a heritage site because they are essential for everything local and fresh. They are furthermore the hearts, souls and control centers of entire neighborhoods, functioning in similar ways to a swarm or an orchestra. Devastated I was to learn that Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish-market had to make way for a hideous, one time sports event. But the vulnerability to sabotage and violent attacks of such hubs is a big problem in many other countries which rely on markets more than we do. Just look to Iraq or Afghanistan for instance where markets are a regular target to terrorist attacks.
On the digital front the media as well as individuals have to handle the ever increasing flow of lies which are deliberately planted like weapons, causing monstrous consequences due to instant distribution. Our global nervous system has become a distorted mirror and a dangerous place where your every move is monitored, and quickly. Luckily, hackers have been around since before the invention of binary. While for the mainstream media a hacker equals a criminal, most are in fact rebels with a cause I much appreciate. Some are undoubtedly dangerous and capable of parallelizing whole infrastructures or infiltrating vital networks, it depends whom they work for. But the digital rebels, the term I use for independent hackers, pioneered “off-grid” for us by setting up the untraceable dark- and deep-net. This “hidden” part of the net is made possible by The Onion Router (TOR) and Virtual Private Networks (VPN). It’s mostly perceived as a playground for criminals, but this is only partly true. Its main purpose is to provide secure communication, which saves countless lives in war zones and under various regimes and dictatorships. The real threat is “total surveillance” which, as unveiled by former NSA employee E. Snowden, has been brought upon us in the form of PRISM. Social media and careless browsing behavior do the rest. But now we have the choice to encrypt our data and even detach from the gangsters who run the banks. Crypto currency and block-chain technology will bring major changes, and not only to the money game.
The analog world’s most relevant networks, such as energy and transportation are sadly often in poor condition even in countries where you wouldn’t expect this. Car manufacturers alongside big oil made sure that the gasoline and diesel-driven options stay the only attractive ones. The space dedicated to the railway in this essay is no coincidence. The Japanese are the masters of railway technology and its application and can show how it’s done. The volume that they move, while doing so safely, fast, punctually and efficiently would make any transit authority chief or carrier jealous. The first “bullet trains” ran between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964 and did an impressive 210 km/h. Now, 56 years later, the German ICE coughs up no more than 180 km/h on most of its tracks due to insufficient capital – about 80% of all German “high speed” trains are slow, chronically late and never fully functional, with this due to capital being drained by shareholders. After an upgrade, the Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train, will efficiently fly you at 400+ km/h from A – B, without the slightest hiccup. A few may know this already, but it’s worth mentioning that the US was once a railway and tram star with a differently imagined future. Then came Detroit.
Considering the global traffic humans generate, one would assume that energy and transportation questions would be ranked top priority. Yet we are still riding on the same principles Nikola Tesla said were already outdated over a hundred years ago. The Transatlantic Railroad Tunnel was first discussed in the 19th century but never even considered again due to the cost factor and the lack of willingness to share it among the nations. Neither the technology nor the long term investments are the issues here. You could once ride an insane 380 km/h (new rec: 574,8 km/h) on a French high-speed commercial train but it required immense power. Some things just have to be put to rest like that TGV or the Concorde because over time priorities change and our number one priority is now efficiency. I am already looking forward to my first Hyperloop ride.
The problem is that little has been accomplished in all these years because big oil kills new developments on the research level. Short haul flights are a disaster, as long as planes keep spitting it out like that and are booked in such numbers. The first electric car was a 6 seater and built in 1890. The most successful mass-produced e-car in the US, was the 1996 – 1999 EV-1 which was loved by its owners but then forcefully taken away by GM in such a manner, which you’d only expect from the Mafia. If bankers become politicians, politicians become managers and scientists become lobbyists, something is evidently and seriously wrong. It was Exxon’s own scientific team who tried to convince the bosses that burning all that oil will inevitably and rather soon, in like 50 years, cause global warming to reach life threatening levels. This was in the 1960’s and those scientists shortly after either died or did very well.
Cargo which is currently still “continent-hopping” on planes and container vessels which burn heavy oil instead of sailing the seas, has an incredible impact and reveals that the way we consume, manufacture and trade has to change profoundly too (part 06). We are way too late already to retard any new efforts and developments. But at least the bicycle keeps evolving and has in the last thirty years, seen more upgrades than anything else rolling around on wheels out there. It’s all connected because we are a network and only high-tech and network-wide, far reaching concepts plus actions will have a noticeable effect. Whether golf is still a sport or just an act of mobile lounging if one is riding a golf cart is up to anyone to decide, but how many decisions about technological development were made on golf courses instead of in senates and parliaments over the last 50 years might be a more relevant and interesting question.