Monday, December 16, 2019

(M: tAs) Digital Web

A major problem with the ubiquity of information in the present day is that you sometimes forget how to react to things naively. If you've got a question, you can just ask it. There's rarely a need to simply sit in bafflement and accept your ignorance. Confusion is simply the fire that drives the engine of research.

This impulse was a real impediment to enjoying Digital Web, a book about the magical internet written in 1993. When it claimed that addictive video games were a Technocracy plot to numb the minds of the Masses and destroy their imaginations, I had to wonder what exactly counted as an "addictive" game back then. Tetris, sure, but what else? So I dropped everything I was doing to look it up.

Turns out that '93 was a pretty good time for games. Right in the middle of the golden age of 16-bit. After Street Fighter II, but before Ultima Online. The same year Doom came out, and, I guess, shocked the normies. My own mental timeline was off because I didn't even get a SNES until, like '94 or '95.

And I'm way off topic, because that's what the internet does to you. You get the opportunity to be as deep and as detailed as you want to be, but the price is the constant threat of distraction.

It's something that Digital Web completely failed to understand about the internet, and as a result the book kind of winds up feeling like it's about nothing in particular.

Though, to be clear, I'm not counting it as a fault that rpg writers in the early 90s did not successfully chart the course of technological and cultural development decades in advance. I'm not an ogre. It's obvious that the White Wolf crew was pretty clued-in, for their day. They knew all about the BBSs and warned their readers about flame wars and system crashes (terms that needed to be put in a glossary back then). They subscribed to subversive magazines like Wired and Boing Boing.

The main flaw with Digital Web is not that it's completely out of touch with anything resembling the modern world. The main flaw with Digital Web is that a fantasy/horror supplement that was an archaeological deep dive into early 90s internet culture would be an absolutely amazing thing to have today, and this book is unfortunately not that either.

Obviously, there is no way the authors could have known that one day the sight of a pale face, sitting in darkness, illuminated only by the flickering light of a monochrome CRT monitor while they typed dangerous occult questions into a text-only message board would itself become a potent gothic-punk image. The internet was new to them, so they leaned into the flash.

It was disorienting at times. At one point, they described a wireless keyboard, a completely unremarkable item, and then followed up with "it uses Correspondence magick" and I was like, "oh, right." This wound up having the amusing side effect of making their descriptions of the Virtual Adepts' magical technology more closely resemble modern tech than White Wolf's later deliberate sci-fi predictions in Trinity.
. . . Also these "decks" are very portable. Often, an Adept's computer will be no bigger than a cellular phone or clipboard (for those who like decent-sized screens.)

Virtual Adept computer decks potentially have incredibly powerful multi-media systems. They recognize and respond to their user's voice commands and are capable of producing human-sounding speech patterns. Radio transmissions link these computers to networks, as if they all contained cellular phones. Some may have more than one cellular line, making them capable of connecting to more than one network at a time. Virtual Adepts have taken communication one step beyond phones. Their computers can receive television and radio transmissions, including signals from satellite stations. They may also be used as frequency scanners and all types of transceivers. Any type of machinery that responds to radio transmissions can be controlled by these systems. Adept systems may also receive e-mail with special anteroom programs that can operate the deck and answer the telephone while unattended . . .
Sure, but what's the battery life like?

Seriously, though, if they then imagined a world where more people had those things than running water, they might have gotten pretty close to the real 2019.

 Unfortunately, I didn't get much out of reading Digital Web aside from a smug feeling about living in the future (though, admittedly, that was pretty fun). Ultimately, the book failed to answer the question, "but what is this all for?" You can kind of use the Digital Web for what passed for super-effective hacking in 1993, but mostly it's just a playground. Mages create immersive VR realms in the magic internet because it's kind of cool to be able to live in your favorite Jules Verne novel. There's no sense of data getting put to work.

And that last part ties in well to the 1st core's big problem - a Technocracy that's more Borg than realistic threat. The parts of the Web they control are like something out of Tron (namecheck in the original) - all right-angles and neon. It made me want to scream, "no, you fools. The Technocracy is going to create digital spaces that feel just like your living room, and all your friends will be there. They'll be built by spying on you 24 hours a day and they'll exploit your good feelings to sell you shit."

But, again, the sorts of minds that were capable of seeing the threat of Big Data all the way back in '93 would have been wasted writing an rpg. They probably didn't even exist at all. If they had, maybe we'd have been able to prevent it.

Ukss Contribution - This book poses a unique problem. I don't really want Ukss to have an internet, but also this book isn't really about the internet in any recognizable sense. I could just choose an amusing fantasy detail, but that wouldn't feel entirely honest. It may just be best to make an environment capable of sustaining hacker tropes before Matrix (Shadowrun) forces my hand . . .

Okay, hold on, this is going to get pretty esoteric pretty fast. According to this book, the Digital Web occupies a unique place in the grand unified World of Darkness metaphysics. It exists within the Gauntlet (a barrier that separates the mundane world from the spirit world) nearby, but not directly adjacent to the CyberRealm, which from what I gather is just the Werewolf: the Apocalypse magic internet, and the two realms are connected by a literal spiritual web created by The Weaver, the WoD's spider-goddess of absolute order.

What I'm picking from this book is The Weaver, but only in her information-network-reifying aspect. Ukss will not have an internet, but it will have an Astral Web, which does pretty much the same thing, but instead of using computers, it will use magical rituals that telepathically contact the mind of an ancient spider goddess.

1 comment:

  1. So, wait, The Weaver is LITERALLY tying the disparate product lines together? This is the best WW canon ever.