I Garbugli della Rete - 3
September 1996

Forests, Dinosaurs
Squirrels and Phoenicians

disponibile anche in Italiano


When talking about the net, the amphibian-dinosaur metaphor is not new. It was used by several people – including Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park, when he wrote Mediasaurus in 1994 to explain why mass media, as we know them now, are on their way to extinction. But it’s so good that it may be worthwhile to use it again.

It’s obvious, I hope, that nobody thinks the printed word, or radio or television, will become extinct. What is terminally sick, and needs radical change, is the information system (more for internal reasons, such as its obtuse and repetitive hierarchies, than because of the impact of new technologies.)

But there is a problem: the old media, old system mentality is trying to invade the net, and to some extent it’s succeeding.

The lively, new, interesting part of the net is not what the saurs are offering, even when they are disguised in“multimedia” tricks or play with the technologies of appearance.

It’s us, the squirrels: like our ancestors millions of years ago, we scuttle along the branches and can get quickly where we want before one of the monsters has the time to turn around.

This reminds me of that lovely fable by Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees, who decides to climb up a tree and spend the rest of his life up there. In those days, Calvino explained, woods were so thick that along their branches one could travel the world. We are not like the “baron” – we can get down whenever we wish. But I like this metaphor because it doesn’t see the net as aseptic technology, but as biological: ever-changing, multiplying, chaotic, unpredictable, complex, like life.

Unfortunately the voice we hear about the “internet” is too often the heavy breath of the dinosaurs, who can’t stand all of this running and communicating in the trees, because it is out of their control. They would be very happy if they could flatten the forest and turn it into paths or “highways” to which they are better adapted.

Will they succeed? I hope not. But they are trying, in a thousand ways. Not only with attempts of censorship, repression, regulation; but also by trying to seduce us with beads and mirrors, as the colonizers did with the people they called “savages”. To tame us, trap us, dig us out of our wild word with Hollywood-Disney lures. They want to re-establish the old model, where the right to speak belongs only to those who control the enormous resources needed to produce large shows; and everybody else sits there stupefied.

There are also people in the net who behave like the Roman consul Caius Duilius. His soldiers were well trained and armed for land fighting, but no good at sea. He equipped his triremes with hooked planks, that would hold down enemy ships and turn the engagement into a land battle. In this way, he won the Battle of Milazzo. But that was not enough to overcome the naval superiority of the Carthaginians; eventually they had to go to Africa and smother Cartage to rubble.

As I am on the side of the Phoenicians, I don’t like the idea.

Let’s not allow them to drag us into the field of dinosaurs or phalanxes, so fit for the old lords of communication.

Let’s stay light, mobile, fast in the branches of our forest. And let’s trade, because no good squirrel is happy without nuts and tasty berries. And... as an American friend of mine says, what’s wrong with eating an occasional dino egg?

Some net “purists” are scared of any business or trade. I think they are wrong. In the history of humanity merchants carried wine, cloth and spices on their ships; but also art, poetry, legends, demons, gods and ideas. Didn’t the Phoenicians invent the first phonetic alphabet?

Let the merchant ships sail – especially the small and fast ones that worry the cumbersome fleets of the old rulers.

Not pirates, not even hackers, because the real frontier is not technological – it’s cultural and human. Idea buccaneers, knowledge privateers, nimble squirrels of imagination.

To break through the information barriers, to get behind the curtains of appearance – to play and babble as much as we wish, ignoring the gloomy walls and murky moats of the (real) Barons even when they try to entertain us, or scare us, with fireworks from the top of their towers. That, indeed, is fun. :-)


Giancarlo Livraghi
  January 1998

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