The Aleph, Cyberspace and Google
“The Aleph’s diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror’s face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I’d seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny – Philemon Holland’s – and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon – the unimaginable universe.” - Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph
Upon reading Borges’ short story, I was struck by the similarities between the Aleph and Google’s mission. Google state that their mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Just like the Aleph, the Google search bar is about an inch wide, and brings the user into a space containing all spaces: streetviews, image searches, video searches, book searches, product searches, web searches, map searches, satellite images, web cams, live traffic, 3d representations of the oceans, the sky, the moon and mars, and the human body.
In the short story, Borges goes on to exclaim: “I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity.”
Many of our reactions to tbe “unimaginable universe” being served up to us by Google likely mirror those experienced by Borges. How can we not feel wonder, pity, excitment, amazement, fear and hope when non-proximately doing something as intimate as exploring the alleyways of a neighbourhood on the other side of the planet?
The Aleph is not quite here, and we cannot yet see every corner of the universe. But the rapid increase in networked information shadows and the desire of one very powerful company to organise of these data, move the Aelph from the realm of fiction to the realm of the imaginable.