|The rhythm of the body that sits before the machine while jumping from one Web link to another is that of a body at rest, a complex grouping of connected and continuous cycles. The rhythm of the software, though, is stop-go as the user initiates an action and awaits the response; or, from the machine's point of view, as it completes an action and awaits a response. While the user waits, the machine works, and vice versa in a mute dance. The user's fleshy hardware has its regular rhythms, of which breathing is one, as does the machine, with its faster cycles, measured in MHz. Its breath, however is one continuous sigh.
With each turn of the bodily cycle, material is exchanged, circulated, gained and lost. Our learning and our memory is uncertain, alterable, and there are many levels of forgetting. Things we thought gone forever sometimes appear in dreams. For the machine, it is all or nothing, the data is preserved just as it was, an eternal configuration of numbers, or is lost just as completely. Short of catastrophe, the machine does not hesitate; for it, memory is an act, not a process.
Speaking is punctuated and regulated by sense and breath at once. Writing, in imitation but also in augmentation of speech's meaning and precision, is interspersed by marks which indicate points in the text where breath might be taken (if it were to be read aloud) but which also affect sense. Writing, again in imitation of speech, has rhythm and direction and pace. While there have always been writers who, deliberately or not, create collage works full of gaps and discontinuities, or who write in such a fashion that the text can barely be read aloud (to impress the reader, perhaps, with their command of some technical or theoretical jargon), the simplest writing has always interwoven impetus and meaning. Hypertext seems different. When you navigate one of the links in this text, just what is it that you are doing? What relation do those jumps have to your body, your breathing and your reading? Do you find yourself more inclined to skim a text seen on a screen than on a page, a screen where the scroll bar is always present, the next link always waiting, the cursor-arrow ever drifting? Ask finally, whether a piece of writing, or an art work more generally, when it loses its relation to human scale and ways of being, indeed to all material, while certainly it gains a mechanical functionality and a certain perfection, loses part of its interest for us, people.
Some have said that war is all a matter of seeing, of making the enemy visible while remaining yourself invisible. But unseen people are also vulnerable; deprived of oxygen even for a few minutes, their brains starts to die. Some of the most effective weapons are those that prevent breathing. In the Second World War it was discovered that intensive bombing with incendiaries could create firestorms. The air itself burns and even those protected from the flames die of suffocation?the most deadly raids of the War, those against Tokyo and Dresden, were like this. Fuel air explosives, bombs which create firestorms without the need for cities to burn, were used in the Gulf War against Iraqi troops. Again, those protected from the bombs' massive blast were suffocated in their shelters as the atmosphere itself went up in flames.