This week saw 2000 people evacuated from the streets of Holborn in central London following a fire beneath its pavements. Black smoke rose up a manhole and filled one of London’s most busiest streets with fumes. For me, it was an early end to the working day midway through Wednesday afternoon. Internet and telephone lines muted at the offices in the timeless Somerset House – where I currently work – bringing a hasty, confused end to what started out as sheer annoyance at yet another example of awfully retro internet connections. Office workers prowled the doors and made another cup of coffee, unable to comprehend not using the computer.
For all its awful consequences on the local economy (especially for the many theatres shutting down, one of which hosted Benedict Cumberbatch), the Holborn fire brings to light two technological/cultural issues;
1) Our over reliance on the internet for both business and pleasure. A cultural addiction with being connected both in the office, and then back home, is alive and gnawing through our humanity. As a journalist, connectivity is a front line issue which both plunders and rewards my word indulged soul. At its best, online platforms brings ideas, stories and people together. At its worst, the small screen causes the most chronic of insomnias. We are still in an experimental-grey phase with how online works in our lives.
2) Our perceptions of the internet.
We now class the net as a thing, an invisible ether hanging by a cloud somewhere across Silicon Valley, as far as the Greek Gods and Goddesses resided from their mortal worshippers. Wifi and cloud based systems for storage exacerbate our views of what the internet is. It is not ‘out there’. Our systems are very much connected physically through cables and lines. An engulfing fire two minutes from work suddenly shook my physical alertness in place. Briskly walking down the Strand back onto another red bus back home brought into mind the multitude of cables, pipes and tunnels under our feet, mingled as one. Technology is geographical, solid and a part of the landscape. Like a sewage problem, sometimes it must be visualised to remind us of our vulnerability.