They've done it again. They keep changing things.

Both Google and Wikipedia have had a minor makeover almost simultaneously. It's most disconcerting. They're not immediately obvious changes, it's quite a subtle thing, but you get the distinct impression that both websites are now made of translucent molded plastic and perfumed mist instead of paper and card.

Of course no matter how disconcerting it is right now, we will all soon get used to it and in a years's time if they suddenly reverted to their previous state we'd suffer from severe dislocative shock.

Just like the physical landscape, these virtual worlds become part of our mental furniture. Everything our minds are is made up of and sculpted by our perceptions of the various worlds around us and the models of them we build in our heads. The infant digital universes that have been springing up in our environment in recent years may not be as conspicuous as the material world, but the internal models we build up of them are every bit as real inside our heads.

If not even more real. Their very nature is pure data, information, so it stands to reason that when we store a model of them in our brain in some way that model is the same as the real thing. Information is information. No-one ever sold a second-hand MP3.

This may be why some people find the online sphere so compelling. If they immerse themselves in it enough they could feel like they're always in that world even when they're not. Whilst offline an internet addict's brain is running a local copy of the dataworld; and when they go online again they merely sync, bringing it up to date.

There's no there, there, as they taught Angie. This is why such changes are so unsettling.

Changes to the physical landscape happen only a few times in a lifetime; the mental nausea thus caused may be strong but we don't have to suffer it often and we soon rebuild the toy country in our head.

Changes to cyberspace are another matter. They happen frequently and are often subtle. Whilst the sickness induced may not be as strong as that caused by real world change, there's far more of it. To keep up, our minds are being remoulded on an accelerating basis. This is not something that has ever have happened before.

Not only are we reshaping ourselves in such a rapid manner, but we also maintain backups, archive copies of the old minds we used to have. Have a look at the 2000 copy of Amazon via The Wayback Machine and, provided you used it back then of course, you will be overwhelmed by cybernostalgia, a sense of "oh yeah, of course, it used to be like that..."

This is the way all nostalgia works of course - the accessing of memories in deep storage. We may not have used rotary dial telephones or compartment train carriages for years, but as soon as we see them we get the "oh yeah..." moment and all the memories of sounds, sights and smells associated with them come flooding back.

That's fine if the world changes at the normal rate. When it starts changing as fast as the internet is, that's another matter. Could this be why everyone (not just older people) have started complaining that time seems to be passing more rapidly now? To make the most of its limited storage space in the face of exponential information expansion perhaps the brain has started storing our memories of time in an attenuated manner so it feels as if they're passing more quickly. I do hope whatever mechanism the brain is using, it's more efficent than DriveSpace was - I'd hate to start losing data.

The long term solution is to get a bigger brain.


stuart said…
Yes, I was looking on Wikipedia yesterday whilst at work and noticed the change... Made me feel all disorientated. Always happens with Facebook when there is some change there too, but can I remember what facebook used to look like though..? No, of course not.

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