Scientific and technological developments have real and direct effects on every person\\\'s life. Some effects are desirable; others are not. Some of the desirable effects may have undesirable side effects. In essence, there seems to be a trade-off principle working in which gains are accompanied by losses.
As our society continues to increase its demands on energy consumption and consumer goods, we are likely to attain a higher standard of living while allowing further deterioration of the environment to occur.
Today, we are often told, we live not simply in an age of information, but in an age of excessive information. The amount and availability of information seem to be increasing at an exponential rate. We feel that our entire world is moving, changing, mutating, at an accelerated pace. Our interactions with this world of information seem plagued by an increasing sense that we cannot keep up, can\\\'t take it all in, that we are being overwhelmed by information, deluged by data: the sense of an \\\"information overload.\\\"
One of the first attempts to represent this kind of information overload appears in Ted Mooney\\\'s 1981 novel, Easy Travel to Other Planets. There, Mooney describes \\\"A Case of Information Sickness\\\" in the following terms:
If information was once considered the solid ground, the \\\"factual\\\" basis, on which to make decisions and take actions, it no longer seems to be so. Indeed, information no longer seems to be solid at all. Not only does it not provide a grounding, a foundation, from which to see, know, or act, it comes to be seen as obscuring our vision, our attempts at knowledge, our ability to control the forces of the world. Information, it might be argued, has become precisely what \\\"all that is solid\\\" melts into. Information flows; it spreads; it dissolves all boundaries, all attempts to contain it. Thus, it is hardly surprising that we increasingly feel ourselves enveloped by a rising tide of information, immersed within it, feeling at once exhilarated and overwhelmed. Whether we figure it as gaseous or liquid--an atmosphere or an ocean, smog or muck, a cloud of charged plasma or an electromagnetic wave--we seem, almost invariably, to represent information as fluid.
Colonizing the Internet
It is perhaps in reaction to this sense of being overwhelmed, lost in the vast data of the Internet, that many Web-related corporations have relied on metaphors of navigation and mapping as the figures par excellence of interaction. Thus, interaction becomes precisely a matter of charting a course through the abundant fluidity of the Net. It is no accident that browsing the Web is figured as becoming a \\\"Navigator\\\" or \\\"Explorer\\\"--names that cannot help but remind us of the European mariners of the fifteenth century and their voyages of so-called discovery. Like their predecessors, today\\\'s Web-explorers must also navigate the unknown and at times tempestuous seas of the Internet. Like these earlier explorers, too, they often seek to chart and to claim this \\\"new world,\\\" to make themselves the \\\"masters\\\" of various sites within it, exploiting its resources and enriching themselves in the process. In short, they seek not simply to explore the exciting--perhaps even \\\"exotic\\\"--new world of cyberspace, but also to br ing it \\\"under control,\\\" to tame its wild currents and flows--that is, to colonize it.
Consider, for example, how efforts to \\\"improve\\\" the Web have been described: the world of the Web, it is said, must be made more easily navigable, its information--its secrets--must be made more accessible; to this end, various sites must be established: beachheads, outposts, trade routes and portals, and in some cases even cities; efforts must be made to contain the chaotic nature of the Internet, to \\\"tame\\\" its wildness, to make its sometimes \\\"exotic\\\" appeal more marketable, more decent, safer, more \\\"civilized,\\\" not to mention commercially viable. In short, its energies must be harnessed, its movements channeled, its resources exploited. The metaphors involved here are extremely similar to those used by colonialism; they presume a need to survey and subdue, to catalogue and contain, and, ultimately, to turn to profitable use, those \\\"areas\\\" that are seen as \\\"wild,\\\" \\\"chaotic,\\\" and \\\"other.\\\" Commercializing the Internet, then, is precisely a matter of trying to know and control, to colonize and master, that whi ch is seen as culturally other.
The advantages and disadvantages of push technology
In March, Microsoft proposed a new standard for push technology called the Channel Definition Format. This is a solid indication that push technology has created a firm Internet presence. Unlike pull technology (search engines and browsers), push technology promises to deliver only the information you want to your desktop in a timely fashion. In this article, we\\\'ll examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of push technology and point out some alternatives.
The origins of push technology
Push technology isn\\\'t new. It has been around since 1981, when the University of New York and Yale University established BITNET (Because Its Time NETwork) to provide E-mail and listservs between the two universities. Listserv discussions are great examples of push technologies because groups deliver information and opinions on specific topics in a timely manner. But if you\\\'ve ever subscribed to a busy listserv discussion group, you know that one of the big disadvantages of push technology is trying to keep up with the flow of information, even though push software companies promote their products as time-saving applications that help you cut through the deluge of information available on the Internet. USENET newsgroups also have some characteristics of push technology because news servers communicate with each other and push news back and forth. A company called Clari.Net has used newsgroups and E-mail to push HTML-formatted news and information since 1989. In April 1996, the PointCast Network, shown in Figure A, introduced software offering news and information channels.