Ubiquity is a myth of modernity. A myth that is not recent though. To be present everywhere, at any time, and on any occasion was yesterday a privilege only of the gods. The digital giants were not mistaken. The “anytime, anywhere, any device” mantra, which has shaped much of the digital transformation of our societies, has done nothing but put a little of this divine dream within reach.
By slipping into the pocket of more than 2.5 billion earthlings, the smartphone has become the symbol of an individual ubiquity, allowing us to be present everywhere while giving us immediate access to all the knowledge of the world. world. Ubiquity at your fingertips in some ways. He also sealed the fate of information that is now confused with the data. A transformation that makes it possible today to imagine connecting our brain to information systems to allow thought to move freely and to communicate freely with machines. A hope for all those who suffer from disability, but a vertiginous dive in the world of transhumanism. Neuralink, the brain-machine interface imagined by Elon Musk is already in its experimental phase.
It is also a truism to say that the cloud and streaming technologies have changed our relationship to this information. Ubiquity has desecrated the great televised masses, contributed to the dealignment of information, is gradually disappearing physical media, rebuffed the cards of creative industries and made data the “new black gold” of information. In a Schumpeterian logic, it also brought out new economic actors who quickly understood the interest in surfing this desire for instantaneity. Google, Amazon, Deezer, Uber, Netflix and hundreds of “game-changers” have done nothing but respond to the desire for “everything, right now” that tends more to the mischievous child’s whim than to the real need. The “we want the world and we want it now” clamored by an edgy Jim Morrison at the end of the 60s has finally turned into a pale consumerist injunction at the beginning of this ubiquitous century.
The deleterious effects of this acceleration coupled with those of non-stop information have also had the effect of pushing us into a world of perpetual urgency. In addition to not improving the balance sheet of our greenhouse gas production, they have also had a crucial impact on our ability to focus, which seems to allow us to compete today with that of the goldfish. Every minute of our lives, every nook and cranny of our physical or digital spaces has become an opportunity to push us information spiked with algorithms we did not always need. “At the heart of the reactor, no technological determinism, but a project that reflects the mutation of the new capitalism: the economy of attention” describes French author Bruno Patino in his book “the goldfish civilization”.
Now, the quest of the net giants relies heavily on this war of attention, where all the shots are allowed to keep the user captive of his services for as long as possible. Apple had already laid the foundations of a closed world. Since 2017, WeChat permits to make direct transactions without ever leaving its application. Facebook, meanwhile, announced last June the creation of Libra, its crypto-currency, which will make transactions between its 2.5 billion users possible, without ever having to leave the platform. Paradoxically, the ubiquitous functionalities progressively lead to building increasingly closed models, setting their own rules with custom-built ethics.
Undeniably, ubiquity, originally sold as a universal commodity, is giving way to a less idyllic landscape. The increasingly clear perspective of a society under control has brought back to life two visionary authors. George Orwell, on the one hand, whose 1984 dystopian novel and omniscient Big Brother was the best-selling book in the United States in 2017. And the philosopher Michel Foucault, on the other hand, whose panoptic principle of “watching over and punish” explains how the ability to spy on everyone without anyone really knowing who is watching leads to a progressive deprivation of individual freedoms guaranteed by self-discipline. A model which created the “control society” in which we delight ourselves today, and which China, with its “social credit” system of ranking citizens, is today the quintessential illustration.
So what remains of this “dream of ubiquity”? It has now partially taken refuge in the parallel worlds. Not those dear to Baudelaire. But rather those much less vaporous of quantum physics and parallel universes. The first prototypes of quantum computers are becoming realities and will perhaps make us feel the fancies of physicist Erwin Schröding and his ubiquitous cat. Between China and the United States, the race has now started. Quantum becomes political.
There is also the more entertaining universe of virtual universes, which draws a lot from the utopians’ dream. This is the favorite playground of the video game industry, which is constantly making us live a “world beyond the worlds” more and more realistic and now immersive, powered by VR technology. A universe that allows, with the same interface, to wander through a reconstructed Venice of the sixteenth century to conquer galaxies in a futuristic universe. Virtual now opens the field of “remote”, which allows both the surgeon to operate remotely and the consultant to attend a “conf-call” feet in the sand, or to give a performance without caring about distances, as proven by the hologram multi-meeting experience of candidate Mélenchon during the 2017 political campaign. In a ubiquitous world, distances disappear. Only skills matter.
In this quest for ubiquity, technology remains the inescapable means. It only makes the fracture between a world with access to this technology, and those who don’t have this privilege more tangible. It also participates in the “disenchantment of the world” and takes the risk of emptying all dreams of their meaning. The planet is tightening again. So what will we be left with once we have definitely acquired the divine ability of ubiquity in a world controlled by the new gods of Olympus? If everything is accessible all the time, boredom threatens around the corner. And we know that when gods get bored, it’s not a good thing for mere mortals’ destiny.
In a duplicable world, the killing idea is now in singularity and experience. We find pleasure again in live happenings, performances, in the spontaneous and ephemeral. All that is not replicable. Which is precisely why the Napoleons have at heart to offers such live gatherings for its community. Ubiquity is good. But nothing ever can replace the pleasure of meeting and thinking together IRL.