Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where Am I?

In I am a Strange Loop[1], Doug Hofstadter ponders where one's "self" is located while being mentally absorbed by a situation that is located in a different place than one's body is currently residing. A simple example being that of reading Jane Austin while sitting in a chair. Another example being remote-controlling a robot on the moon. He asks the question "Where Am *I*" (where "I" is his shorthand for soul/self/consciousness).

It reminded me of my very first days exploring the World Wide Web in 1994.  I explained to my family, as I gave them a guided tour of my new toy "Netscape", that we could "visit" places all around the world!  Look, here we go to the South Pole[2] or Australia[3]!  Because in those early days, the web server and the content were actually physically in those places, and because the browser was hardly more than a remote terminal program, it really was like remote logging in to computers around the world, which felt very much like being there. That made switching from one site to another feel like teleporting instantly from one continent to another.

These days, the content about a place, versus the server serving the content, versus the location of the many cached copies (e.g. Akamai), and so forth have blurred "where am I" so much as to be meaningless and not even contemplated anymore.  But in the early days, there was a real sense of "I am in Antarctica now!".

[1] "I am a Strange Loop",2007, Hofstadter, Basic Books