Symbols and Circuits
In a comedy written by Aristophanes, Socrates (that had pended himself in a basket to elevate his thoughts and give them some air) attempts to persuade his conversation partner that only clouds inhabit the Olympus, “great gods for men free from the slavery of labour; they bring us intelligence, discourse, understanding, circumlocution, fantasy, attack and counterattack”.
Aristophanes wrote The clouds to ridicule the sophists, those rhetoric masters who are experts in defending something and its opposite without even having to catch some air. The praising of clouds as if they were gods is, of course, a silly joke. Who would dare to adore such common and fleeting beings?
I ignore whether ancient theatre would sparkle anger amongst programmers and informatics, or if they took Socrates ́ nebulous promises seriously. Ah, intelligence; Oh, circumlocution. The data, intangible as angels or cholera bacilli, have long lived the shame of physical storage, as canned goods in cupboards. Fortunately, thanks to technology and ingenuity they have been emancipated, and as Homer says of god Hermes, “his feet no longer touch the floor, they walk through the heads of men”
Everything is nowhere: hallelujah. At any second and latitude, a phone may summon the data his owner needs, and those will fall into his screen as raindrops from the sky. Quick, clean and mysterious. Through fluffy icons and clever naming tricks, users magically forget about the heated servers, the soldering, the micro connectors and the blood spilling mineral exploitation of cobalt and coltan. The cloud, that inhabits noisy and refrigerated industrial depths, shows itself as an ethereal and benign figure: it guards our remembrances, facilitates our work and assists us on any given need. To Divine Providence, it has become a competitor.
But there is no respectable mist without an ominous peak. The London fog has poisoned twelve thousand people in the year 52 and, as if that wasn’t enough, also provoked a wave of assaults and robberies. Seventy years earlier, Jack the Stripper performed his infamous anatomy classes beneath that same thick atmosphere. Correggio painted Jupiter as a thundercloud that girdles his hands around the waist of damsel Ío, an affaire that brought him all sorts of disgrace. The cloud can always reach you. Its ubiquitous and ungraspable power whispers a mephistophelic ditty: I will forever be available, for you shall forever be connected.
Whenever technology becomes mystical, disgraces arise.