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Autostoppismo cognitivo (cognitive hitchhikers)

There are no insignificant moments, I know that now. But at the time, I thought every day was full of them, and indeed that life itself could offer almost only insignificant moments to my teenage appetite; alternating, rarely, with something special. Certainly, the first time I saw a browser on the screen – or heard the futuristic screech of the modem in its laborious search for a connection – must have seemed like just another curiosity, certainly not an unforgettable one, and indeed I have forgotten it. It has disappeared like a dog’s footsteps in the sand, and not even Proust could go and reconstruct that moment in my memory; and besides, it seems that even the insiders at the time of their ‘first click’ made the same mistake of expectation as I did.

On the other hand, there are many long-awaited changes, announced as epochal and revolutionary, which years later have not kept their promises. The MiniDisc, for example. What did I think this internet gimmick was, what use could it possibly be, compared to the wonder of the MiniDisc? I thought they would change my life. Heh.

As well as the Commodore 128, which my father had given me for some birthday, maybe my eighth, maybe my ninth. The first connection of my life, however, had to happen more or less ten years later, and in any case around 1994, when my first Intel 486 entered the house. Maybe they showed me something when I bought it, maybe they gave me an e-mail address, or maybe they did. The browser at the time was called Netscape, I remember that. Just as I remember that my first website was called Geocities, an imaginary city in which I could put all the things I thought, and you could jump from one city to another.

Today there is the Geocities memory kingdom, a sort of necropolis of the ancient world wibe web. I found it on Metafilter, a great container of interests that in turn recalls that elitist golden age. Not to mention Ubuweb, which still proudly bears the sign “founded in 1996” as if it were a shop in the old town: every time I go there I seem to hear it again, the screeching of the modem.

At the time it was like hitchhiking along imaginary roads, made not of asphalt but of ideas. My Geocities page must have been created around 1995 or 1996, who knows. But deep down, my way of experiencing the Internet has never really changed since then: it is that of a vagabond who arrives, sees, takes a piece and then leaves again. A wanderer of knowledge. A cognitive hitchhiker. Who could certainly buy himself a car, but at the cost of losing his lightness.

Everything I see, read, listen to is for me like meeting a driver who gives me a lift from one point to another in the universe. Depending on how many possibilities for new movements there are at that point, I will have the feeling that the point I have arrived at is more or less interesting. And it is strange for me that the noun “interest” does not exist in the Italian language, because if it did I would use it during my wanderings: I could measure everything I see, read, look at based on its “interest”, or cognitive connectability, or its ability to create a certain number of connections that lead me to other things, which in turn will lead me to others. For example, if, while studying a subject, I discover 10 possible insights to make, it means that the interest of that subject is 10. If that topic suggests 3 other topics to me, its interest is 3. But if it does not suggest anything to me, if it is a dead end, its interest is zero and in order to start again I will first have to reach other topics, unconnected to it, and endowed with interest, that is, with connectability.
Today, it is mainly newsletters that offer trips to cognitive hitchhikers. The first one I started following was Brainpickings.

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