For those of us old enough to remember when long distance phone calls were a big deal and international calls had that terrible lag time, we also remember that that the land line we were using was hard wired to the wall. And so it wasn’t a far stretch of the imagination to extrapolate that our friend was on the other end of that wire, using a similar phone, tethered to the wall. When I asked my mom how we were speaking to our relative on another continent and she explained that we were connected by a long wire across the ocean, I was in awe, but it wasn’t hard to conceive since every single person using a phone was somehow, physically wired to the end of the line.
Our perceptual concepts were already formed so our language could naturally form around it.
When AT&T ran those funny “reach out and touch someone” commercials, they made sense back in the physically wired world.
If we’re to keep the image of the land-line phone, the wire-less world we’ve evolved to today is only on this end of the wall. Everything behind that wall is still wired and physical. We’ve freed ourselves to become completely mobile, but the infrastructure is just as physical as it always was, and has grown to keep apace. The difference now is that we don’t have the perceptual symbols around our infrastructure and so we can’t really form any language around it.
One way to think about our visual perception system is that it forms symbols of things allowing us to quickly recognize objects while in motion, in different shapes, angles and so on. Or, even when they are temporarily obscured or hidden, we can still retain the symbol in our mind and know that it exists even though we can not see it. If I were to hide my apple behind your computer, you would still hold the image of the apple in your mind and believe that it existed.
When we made those long distance calls years ago, we held the image of the phone line connecting the two ends, even though we couldn’t see it, because we saw our end, and we knew our friend was on the other end.
What visual symbols and language do we have today for our Internet and communication? How do we know that we’re connected? We use the amorphous term ‘cloud’ to vaguely describe real physical servers in which we store our data. We speak of wireless yet we are all wired to one another: over 1/2 million miles of subsea fiber cables connect our continents, moving terabytes of data around the globe every second (satellites account for about 1% of traffic). We are literally more connected to each other than ever before and we can’t even see it.