true gripes information superhighway

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The Independent Online
Here they come again. Another bunch of MPs and businesses seeking to impress us with how clued-in and wired-up they are, how deeply immersed in the zeitgeist. How do they try to impress us, to cow us into thinking that they know more than we do? With that damnable, meaningless cliche: the "information superhighway".

Ten years ago they were telling us how "user-friendly" their interests were. Like all jargon, the phrase "information superhighway" serves to gloss over the bits they don't unders- tand. Even more annoying is the way that they use it as though we could walk down the street, point at an object and say: "That's the Information Superhighway. They're building it right now."

So we get politicians telling us that we are "in the fast lane of the information superhighway," and business people whose companies are "accelerating on to" the I.S. There are jejune metaphors about laybys, slow lanes, old bangers, traffic jams.

The Internet's discussion groups include people who have been on-line for five, ten, twenty years. They usually have an ad-hoc rule: if someone uses That Phrase, they clearly don't know what they're talking about.

For the benefit of those who haven't twigged yet: there is no information superhighway. There never will be. There are just more and more communications links, and more and more ways of processing the data that travels over them. But the metaphor is completely at odds with what's happening. "Superhighway" implies travel, movement. In fact these technologies are bringing everything closer, in time if not in distance. There's less movement, less travel.

The "information superhighway" was first promulgated by a politician - Al Gore, during the 1992 US presidential campaign - whose livelihood depends on people believing that he'll deliver more than he actually can. More importantly for a politician, those two words sound important and everyone thinks they understand what they mean, and no one can ever accuse you of not delivering, because there's no way to define what you mean.

But I can define exactly where self-important press releases about so- and-so's knowledge of the I.S. go. They are filed in the Biodegradable Information Node. It's 2ft square, and is emptied twice a day.