Twenty years after the Police’s Synchronicity, the word finally seems to have entered everyday language. One of UPS’s new slogans, which I just saw on the side of a brown truck in Philadelphia, is now “Synchronizing the World of Commerce.”
I know what “synchronizing” means, I guess, but what does that slogan mean? Why does the world of commerce need to be synchronized? Is it out-of-synch?
I suddenly began thinking of all the ways we know use the word “synchronize”—we do it with our Palms and Pocket PCs, our email accounts, our files, anything where we have multiple copies of something and one is more recent than the others. (Ignore for the moment the out-of-date and oh-so-nineties N-Sync.) Synchronicity here deals with time. Something that has been synchronized is now closer to the present (and thereby, on the near edge of the future) than something that has not been synchronized.
With the UPS slogan, however, a new dimension has been added to the essence of “synchronize.” That dimension is the dimension of space, for that is what UPS is known for: moving objects through physical space. UPS’s new slogan extends UPS’s dominance to the dimension of time. “Synchronicity” is a marriage of time and space, or really, the fantasy of enfolded space. A sort of time warp, where information travels instantly because space is folded on itself. What we have here is the dream of instantaneous information (made possible by UPS’s pioneering infrastructure). I find this vision very close the the fantasy of total complete information. The new media theorist Stuart Moulthrop has written about the “game of perfect information“—that if we possess enough computing power and access to the best available data, we can make perfect decisions. Moulthrop was talking about this way back in the nineties, and he was eerily prescient of the Defense Department’s failed Total Information Awareness Project.
The UPS slogan articulates the same cultural tendencies that led Admiral Poindexter, the “visionary” behind the Total Information Awareness program, to pursue a means to “imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components and prototype, closed-loop, information systems.” This mission statement is so vague (not to mention grammatically difficult to parse) that it could apply to a corporation’s strategy for dominance in global commerce as well as to a nation’s “war” against terrorism.