Peter York on Ads: From superhighway to giant atrium in a few short years

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The Independent Online

How do you see it - the net, the web the online world ... cyberspace? In the dear dead days of the Grand Illusion, the early-mid 1990s, when The Project was Five Blokes and A Plot, Peter Mandelson still had a moustache and the web was a thing policy wonks talked about but ordinary people didn't have, they had a different word for it. The "information superhighway" sounds as period as the autobahn and just as evocative. Like remote-controlling your cartoon dodgem car down the ramp and on to the fast track, for all the world like a bit of early Atari.

How do you see it - the net, the web the online world ... cyberspace? In the dear dead days of the Grand Illusion, the early-mid 1990s, when The Project was Five Blokes and A Plot, Peter Mandelson still had a moustache and the web was a thing policy wonks talked about but ordinary people didn't have, they had a different word for it. The "information superhighway" sounds as period as the autobahn and just as evocative. Like remote-controlling your cartoon dodgem car down the ramp and on to the fast track, for all the world like a bit of early Atari.

The information superhighway was a vivid yet klutsy old metaphor, something to take your mind off the fact that there's no "there" there - it's just computers yoked to each other with no central pyramid, no Bondish rocket station in a giant volcano, No One Home. IS gave the impression of stuff flying along of its own accord. All you had to do was get on board and it would erupt on your screen.

BT exploited this idea when they launched broadband. There was a giant sewer-sized pipe in the street and everything was in it; there were boys, toys, electric irons, TVs and lots more. It blew and Jarvis Cocker and a rhino fell spectacularly to earth. What a lot you got.

Now, a couple of years later, BT's selling its current broadband service with another giant metaphor: the giant high white atrium/concourse/ departure lounge; the unbroken span of future dream architecture with everything there: history, politics, the arts and entertainment, 2000 years - and two million. Biplanes roaring around, pterodactyls too. The wisdom of the ages moves down the curved walls of this vast space in film-strip fashion, with controllers sending stuff to subscribers. Serious Sarah Milton, at 8 Mill Close, has ordered Churchill, Roosevelt and , Stalin, and her despatcher with the Forties 'do sends them off. A solitary man with lots of music kit orders music for his iPod, and his American space captain sends it along.

There are pop stars and penguins, Roundheads and Cavaliers, Sir Isaac Newton and his apple, Gainsborough stunnas with giant wigs and beauty spots, the Damien Hirst medical model man, Neanderthal man and everything from a Dorling Kindersley pop-up book. It's got the lot.

"Access the true power of broadband" they say to a market which is now experienced, "up to three times faster than some systems - more power to you".

It looks lovely; a white-out heightened with blue. This is what the Dome - that other Grand Illusion of the mid-90s - ought to have felt like.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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