Just last month, in this space, we noted the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Internet. Twenty is still young, we observed, but for something barely out of its teens, the Internet has wrought an impressive transformation in the way tens of millions of people live and work. Last week a minor news item revealed that the global network is taking its influence to new heights. Literally. In March, the grandson of the only surviving Sherpa to have climbed with Sir Edmund Hillary will open an Internet cafe on Mount Everest.
Talk about symbolism. Along with the poles, the oceans, the Amazon and the Sahara, the world’s highest mountain has always been an icon of nature’s otherness, an emblem of the planet’s resistance to human encroachments. Despite the litter problem on Everest, and the pedestrian traffic jams on the easiest routes, the forbidding mountain has never quite yielded its sovereignty — as the blizzard that killed nine climbers near the summit in 1996 sternly reminded us.
Mr. Tsering Gyaltsen’s cloud-capped cybercafe, which will operate via a wireless transmitter, won’t be at the summit; it will be located at the Khumbu glacier base camp some 5,300 meters up the mountain. Still, that is just 3,550 meters short of the summit and more than 1,500 meters higher than Mount Fuji. It will certainly be the world’s loftiest Internet outpost.
The climbers who died on the mountain seven years ago had cell phones, as anyone who heard the recordings of their last conversations will not soon forget. Communications technology didn’t save them, and there is no reason to suppose an Internet link at base camp will be able to save anyone, either, should another of those killer storms or avalanches strike.
But that’s not the point. Imagery is the point. For as long as this cafe is open for business, the image it projects is of wildness tamed, the planet urbanized, the rough places made ever plainer. What’s next for the Khumbu glacier? A Starbucks? The new e-mail drop on Mount Everest is a sure sign of where we are headed and a poignant reminder of what we are leaving behind.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.