by Stefano Lanzavecchia
Im dreaming of a White Christmas Irving Berlin
Dreaming I was dreaming Namie Amuro
The Internet is like a dream. Allow me to show you the reason why.
If you have ever paid attention to any of your dreams, you are probably aware of the fact that they are not simply composed of images. Every single experience during a dream is a complex conglomerate of sensations, which are layered and intermixed. Think of a cloud, the way you look at it when awake: a cloud in the sky is no more than a patch of steam with an irregular shape. With a little bit of fantasy you could recognise the profile of somebody in the shape. Maybe the wind carries a particular smell but it is quite distinguished from the cloud itself. Even rain or a lightning flash would not normally be considered parts of the cloud. And that is it.
A cloud in a dream is a completely different matter. Not only has it a colour and a shape, but it also has a taste , a scent and a consistency under your fingers, despite the fact that it could be miles away. It is almost impossible to analyse in detail the sensations transmitted during a dream because the meaning is not conveyed by one of them but by them all together as a unit. Now, if you try to reproduce in a conventional book an experience like the one described, you will have to work quite hard with the language, struggle with the words and force the syntax to its limits . In fact even a non dream-like description can be very poor and sterile when matched with reality, because of the strictly mono-layered medium used.
The Internet opens up a whole new set of possibilities. First, along with the text, colours, images, icons, and sounds can be transmitted to make the experience richer. However, there is more: since ideas can be linked together (namely through the use of hyperlinks), the reader gets the chance to walk in an orthogonal fashion through the content-rich pages. An extra dimension is added by the fact that one author can devise a texture of links that can point anywhere, not just to pages of the same work, but to pages of different works as well as to the work of other authors. Even in the case of the total absence of images or sounds, links can be used to unfold multiple layers of meaning for a single word or a thought. The choice of which links to follow and to what depth is up to the reader. Because of this, the reader can easily find himself following a path which will lead him into unexpected areas, just as in a dream, where the logic of the events is somehow disrupted by the continuous change in focus of the interest of the dreamer. Our cloud could take us to a site devoted to recipes for ice-creams, linked to another site about the history of China, in turn linked to a site maintained by a fan of traditional Japanese board games. Here we are, in front of a chessboard, after a trip, which took us through countries and centuries.
The surprising thing is that the trip was not linear and logical, the way reality is usually described, but jump-like and emotion-driven, the way we are used to in our dreams. With a few mouse-clicks we can quickly walk our way back to the point from where we started, and begin a new journey with the same edge conditions but different goals in mind. Science and magic, poetry and gossip, knowledge and entertainment, cooking and space travel, side by side, no walls, only fantasy, esprit and time to limit the exploration.
 Earth is Room Enough, Isaac Asimov
 The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro
© 1999 British APL Association & Stefano Lanzavecchia