“Skips Won’t Be Able to Skip No More” | Systems Have No Use for Souls | Web-shock

ArpaNet Logic Map500

Just finished Pynchon’s new novel, Inherent Vice. I’d highly recommend it – one of his more approachable books, though retaining the bawdiness, comedy and inevitable excursions into song that have become part of his trademark style.

One subtly done, yet highly effective strand of the narrative is that of Fritz, who is hooked into ARPAnet, the proto internet. Fritz becomes useful to the protagonist, Doc Sportello, because he can use ARPAnet to find out pretty much anything that Doc – a forgetful, dope-addled private investigator – needs to know.

In one of the closing passages, Doc goes looking for Fritz to thank him for all his assistance, but is met instead by his deputy, Sparky:

“Fritz said after he’d been on the network for a while it felt like doing psychedelics. He also thinks the ARPAnet has taken his soul.”

Doc thought about this. “Has it?”

Sparky frowned off into the distance. “The system has no use for souls… It’s moving so fast, like the more we know, the more we know, you can almost see it change one day to the next. Why I try to work late. Not so much of a shock in the morning.”

“Wow. Guess I better learn something about this or I’ll be obsolete.”

“It’s all pretty clunky. Down here in real life, compared to what you see in spy movies and TV, we’re still nowhere near that speed or capacity… But it all moves exponentially, and someday everybody’s going to wake up to find they’re under surveillance they can’t escape. Skips won’t be able to skip no more, may be by then there’ll be no place to skip to.”

The book is essentially a thriller – Doc trying to work out who is at the centre of a mystery organization, and where his ex-girlfriend has been kidnapped to. But there’s always so much more with Pynchon, and this book works as a beautiful meditation on information: volatile facts that disappear from our memories, or are distorted by circumstance. While in the background, this faultless, unimpeachable machine keeps churning out facts and putting imperfect human minds right.

Why Pynchon gets so right are the complex edges that this networked machine brings: the addiction, the soullessness, the permanent expansion, the need to stay connect to prevent the shock of the new come morning, and the anticipation that it’s tentacles may yet reach so far as to impinge on our freedom.

Thank goodness for the hidden life of someone like him, wherever and whoever he may be. His quiet, uncelebrated vision allows him to comment so much more wisely. We’d do well to log off and listen for a while.


One response to ““Skips Won’t Be Able to Skip No More” | Systems Have No Use for Souls | Web-shock”

  1. And speaking of machines…if you haven’t seen this yet you may find it of interest: http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-08/evolving-robots-learn-lie-hide-resources-each-other