Wednesday, July 12, 1995

Access

EVERYBODY wants some; can there possibly be enough to go around? Or will the earth's reserves be depleted, leaving none for the coming generations? "Access" is now the crucial resource in everything from computing to art galleries and parenting. What you think and what you possess may be of interest, but the smart money knows that you are what you access.

It is some time since an access was an outburst of feeling never mind an ague fit. The loss of these antique definitions of "access" has, however, been more than compensated for by the word's mid-century mutation into a verb. When "access" came to be used in computing from as early as 1950, "access time," the time taken to "withdraw a number from storage," was the main issue. By the beginning of the Sixties, the idea of accessing basically, getting anything you don't have - began to explode into non-computing disciplines.

In the early Seventies, the notion that there should be more general access to the broadcast media gained ground. In theory, media access might enable ignored groups to make programmes which express and explore their own lives and interests. On this side of the Atlantic, where there was no legal obligation to provide space for this type of programming, access broadcasting never became a force.

THAT is until Channel Four's Take-Over TV a unique tranche of programming in which narcissists and weirdoes get to shout at their Hi-8 cameras about whatever interests them. For some reason, access to cheap and easy video equipment and chunks of airtime is seen as altering the intrinsic fascination of dysfunctional types, so that what was yesterday's dodgy personal habit - a penchant, say, for singing hits from Hollywood musicals while lying in a coffin spreading cream over one's naked body is today's access TV star turn.

In the US, access is often used synonymously with influence, so that those peddling influence will also lay out a line of access on their stalls. Access in these cases is not simply instrumental in achieving some aim, such as a lucrative contract, or a convivial sub-clause in legislation, but may also be something of value in itself. The same game is played more transparently in the music business, where a shiny laminate proclaiming "access all areas" is far more important as a mark of social distinction than for the freedom it might offer to climb the lighting rigging.

It is hardly surprising that those who stand to benefit most directly from increased Internet use, the companies operating modem dial-up services, have the powerful-sounding title "access providers". But while some people may suggest that high speed access to the Internet is essential for the survival of freedom, other doubting back-sliders remain more concerned with access to uncontaminated drinking water.

Wednesday, July 05, 1995

Future

WE ARE on the extreme promontory of ages! Why look back since we must break down the mysterious doors of Impossibility? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the Absolute for we have already created the omnipresent, eternal speed," wrote Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in his Futurist manifesto.

Despite the sound of things, Marinetti had not just spent an eye-hollowing night chasing hot links on the World Wide Web. He had instead been driving his 1908 automobile (without due care) through the streets of the industrial city, when he was struck, rather forcibly, by the notion that the future had apparently arrived at some point during the previous afternoon.

Though the Italian Futurist experiment ended rather tragically, (a celebration of the joys of the first World War led to a significant cull of Futurists, while a later flirtation with Fascism proved equally misguided) the shoots of the movement seem to have broken again, through the concrete of ages. Futurism, with its orgiastic embrace of speed and technology, has come to take up ever increasing amounts of radio, television, books, newspaper and, magazine space.

Leonard Cohen got in early on this current nouvelle vague of futurism. In the typically chirpy title-track to his 1992 album, The Future, (which Oliver Stone uses over the final sequence of Natural Born Killers) he demanded that the we "take the only tree that's left / and stick it up the hole in your culture" before announcing: "I have seen the future, baby; it is murder." Since then, however, scepticism (excluding the odd rant about "cyberporn") has gradually been banished from the future.

Of all contemporary soothsayers, none has received more rapt attention for his visions than Bill Gates. Bill's messages typically involve the kind of rhetoric that would make a medicine show doctor blush: "I think the future is irresistible and doesn't need a salesman" he told GQ readers recently. But despite such disingenuous sleight of hand, Gates wields the future like a weapon. Microsoft's rumoured tactic of announcing imaginary future products -"vapourware" to attack products in development by other companies, is the parry of a consumate future warrior.

Negotiating the gap between "now" and "the future" has always been a staple of advertising for technology. Successful advertising in this area depends on collapsing the distinction between the two, turning every product into a tiny time machine. Phillips epoch-marking slogan, "tomorrow's technology today" perfectly captured what the consumer of electronics demanded - little, glowing, black bricks of future, available at a high-fi shop near you, now.

Taking account of the popularity of the future, the German government has appointed a "Minster for the Future," Dr Jurgen Ruttgers. For our great journey towards the ever receding future, Ruttgers will obviously be awarded a passenger seat alongside Leonard Cohen and Bill Gates while, at the wheel, with a wired sparkle in his dilated pupils, will be Mannetti. Wake me when we get there.