Inspired by the brain of my friend Emma: the Internet works because (and is evidence that) we all dream the same thing – or, put another way, that our dreams take place in the same dream world.
A contrasting narrative: The Internet is a Thing. The properties and uses of this Thing are defined not by you, but by the Experts. By the people who Make Things.
This industrial narrative of the internet is neither new nor unfamiliar to those of us born at a time so as to qualify for dual-citizenship in the industrial and information ages. It has thus far defined the basis for rational, mainstream, scientific discussion of the growth of network technology in general and the current components of the internet (think www, irc, e-mail, etc) in particular.
However, I have often gotten the sense that the underlying mathematics that make the internet special – that make it a thing wholly different in kind from the industry that appeared to proceed it – are the stuff of everyone’s dreams. A birthright of sorts.
I have been tussling for the past few days over the phrase “sacred mathematics.” Most of us have come across the phrase “sacred geometry,” and it’s typically meant to refer in some sense to the psyhedelic: the iterating, the aesthetically remarkable, the difficult-the-explain-without-getting-excited.
In a sense, I suppose that I want to suggest that hashing functions and public-key cryptography share the same sacred status as mandlebrot and julia sets.
For some of us, these are the dreams and the scenes of fantasy.
The odd part – or at least the under-reported part – is that these dreams have such a common and accessible basis.
For example, it’s plain to see that chatting with a next door neighbor via facebook or google chat is wasteful and burdensome. Instead of having packets leave your house and transit through the air into your neighbor’s window (as with the cup-and-string phone, which Emma and her housemates made this past summer), they instead proceed all the way across the USA (at least) and then all the way back.
Similarly, even those who most fervently identify as “non-techy” among us can see the byzantine nature of media distribution when facing the prospect of downloading a local band’s album via a website (and protocol, and payment method, and file format) of a complete stranger.
Will the internet follow the shape and character of our dreams?
Particularly in lucid dreams, the industrial world seems trivial. Things can be smashed or made to disappear completely. Distances collapse alternately into miniscule or infinite. Flight of the body – in fact the flaunting of adherence of the body to waking physics at all – is commonplace.
Latency, routing, name resolution, and an overhaul of the transport layer all important metaphorical meaning to the dream space.
In this sense, our dreams are filled already with the fixes forthcoming in IPv6, in Bitcoin, and in mesh networking. As our species wakes up to these realities, may we be ever more attune to them in our dreams.