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Doppleganger in a Box
Feb 05, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

Yea, OK, so my hard drive crashed. I lost all my data. Three years of work -- memos, spreadsheets, outlines, presentations. A few megs of classic email archives. Two years of journal entries. Letters to Mom. Classic hand-drawn bitmaps from co-workers. A soundbite from a friend's Grandmother.

Eh, whatever. Information is cheap, right? Data's even cheaper. "The real knowledge is in your head," say my friends, consoling me. "I wouldn't worry about it."

So, I started over. New hard drive. Clean installs of Win95, MSOffice, Netscape, Eudora, etc. Back up and running, hooked into the LAN at work, and into the Net at large. And then yesterday I did the obvious... I went out and bought a Ditto drive from Iomega. Nice machine. Small. Quick. Cheap. Backed up 320 megs in 30 minutes. I've got a nice little tape at home, sitting snug in its case, holding my stuff. A copy of my newly formed electronic life.

A doppelganger in a box.

A doppelganger in a box. Hmmm... interesting. The box is the other half of me -- the half I can't keep in my head, the half that I need to have, but don't need to remember...the stuff I could just keep as an endless succession of one's and zeros.

Information is cheap...

Really cheap. Just point your browser to Yahoo or to Galt. See that Reuters newsfeed? See that 15-minute delayed quote? Do you realize how much that would have cost you to have on your desktop five, ten, fifteen years ago?

I take this "democracy of information" for granted. I check stock prices all day long, but don't bother to find what the company behind the ticker symbol is doing for its customers. I read Reuters headlines, and thank God I don't live in Sarajevo. I hear audio clips of Steve Forbes rambling about his flat tax, without bothering with what a flat tax would mean for anyone besides Steve Forbes.

All of the information out there has turned me into a cut-and-paste artist. I rarely stop to think, to make connections. There's no reason to understand, to figure it out, or even to remember what happens -- because, hey, I'll just bookmark it. Why have an idea of my own when I can point to someone else's?

We live in an info-glut. But how much of it is getting through? And how much of it is being turned into anything useful? Very, very little. The media sure ain't helping much. When's the last time you saw a news story about how the budget talks are going to affect anyone besides Dole, Clinton or Gingrich? Or what the Communications Decency Act means for discussion about abortion, AIDS, or gay rights on the net? Or even what the gyrations at Apple mean for anyone besides Spindler or Markkula?

And billg is telling us that combining a television network with an online service is gonna help things? "Viewers will look to NBC News for headlines from around the world, tune in to the cable channel for in-depth analysis and click into the Microsoft Network for comprehensive information customized to the viewer's preferences." Sure. And then I'll just click away to the latest Melrose plot summary, or a snippet of an 80's song lyric. It's all the same to me.

Esther Dyson argues that in the new information economy, the spoils will go to those who can add "Intellectual Value" to the free-floating intellectual property. Or in other words, adding context to the content. Man, I hope this happens. I'm in desperate need of some context.

In the meantime, I'll just continue to put more of my life into the box. More writing, more spreadsheets, more presentations, more email. And I'll make backups. One computer-enema is enough for one lifetime. And maybe then I can just turn my head into a big File Allocation Table -- just an index of what's in the other box.



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