In response to the unlecture, where Adrian attempted to blow our minds with the notion that the internet was not, in fact, a virtual space, but was actually very physical with very real world consequences.
I think the question was, “What does it matter if there are more mobile phones with internet connections than there are people on the planet? Does the internet actually exist if we aren’t using it?” In essence at least.
Adrian responded by giving examples of all of the reasons that the internet existed in physical space, and how there was a literal, measurable, carbon footprint for every email that we send (and that, it is reasonable to describe spam emails as physical pollution).
(One of the things he failed to mention, in terms of how large Google was as a company – “Google uses more electricity than Melbourne” – was how it is storing some of it’s most recent data farms. They eliminate the problem of real estate costs by floating their servers in the ocean.)
In response to this, I agree, the internet does have a physical presence on the world. However I think the distinction lies in the fact that is is the infrastructure that takes up the physical space, and the internet itself (I suppose this really comes down to a definitional argument; what is the internet?) remains virtual. I cannot touch Facebook any more than I can touch this blog post. I can touch a server, or a screen, but not the literal thing in itself.
Similarly, I cannot access the internet without a computer or a smartphone. The internet can still exist, in terms of the fact that servers, fiber optic cables (oh Tony), data centers, technicians and electricity can exist, but without a medium through which to access it, it doesn’t exist in a practical sense. And if a person is only able to access the internet through one medium at a time, there seems little point in championing the fact that there are more mobile phones than there are people on the planet.
It seems a little like owning more than one pair of the exact same glasses so that you can read different books while wearing them. One pair for fiction, the other for biography. An iPad for social media and a computer for working.
It almost becomes an existential argument, “If a tree falls in a forest…”, and ties quite will into what we were talking about in philosophy and quantum theory, and how perception of a thing alters the physical state of the thing (Schrodinger’s Cat), but that isn’t what I imagine Adrian had considered when he was answering the question.
(Strange how we inevitably alter the context of a thing in order to suit it best to our field of specialty/interest.)