As the fin-de-K countdown cranked into the nineties, I became increasingly curious about the technicians I saw poking about in manholes. They were not sewer or gas workers; evidently they were up to something quite different. So I began to ask them what they were doing. “Pulling glass, ” was the usual reply.
They were stringing together some local, fiber-optic fragments of what was fast becoming a worldwide, broadband, digital telecom- munications network. Just as Barón Haussmann had imposed a bold spider’s web of broad, straight boulevards on the ancient tangle of París, and as nineteenth-century railroad workers had laid sleep- ers and Steel to shrink the windy distances of the North American.
frontier, these post-whatever construction crews were putting in place an infobahn — and thus reconñguring space and time rela- tionships in ways that promised to change our lives forever. Yet their revolutionary intervention was swift, silent, and (to most eyes) invisible.
At about the same time, I discovered — as did many others — that I no longer had to go to work. Not that I suddenly became idle; it’s just that the work now carne to me. I did not have to set out every moming for the mine (as generations of rny forebears had done), the ñelds, the factory, or the office; I simply carried a lightweight laptop Computer that gave me access to the materials on which I was working, the tools that I required, and the necessary processing power. When I wanted to connect to the network, I could just plug it in to the nearest telephone socket or to the R.J-11 connections that were beginning to appear on airplane seats. In- creasingly, I found that I did not even need to be near an outlet; my pocket-sized cellular telephone could do the job. Ñor, in the age of the Walkman, did I have to go to the theater to be enter- tained. More and more of the instruments of human interaction, and of production and consumption, were being miniaturized, dematerialized, and cut loose from fixed locations.
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