The following is pasted from pages 174-175 of the rulebook.
If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you. This abyss is called the internet.
“Gnomon” comes from the Greek words for “one that knows” or “one that examines.” It’s the part of the sundial that casts the shadow and tells you what time it is.
This GNOMON with which you are interacting is not that. But it is like that.
A sundial gnomon is not time, but it shows time. The sun does not make time, the sun makes light. (Light traditionally denotes wisdom, knowledge, ‘illumination.’) The sun does not move, it only appears to move, and its appearance of movement reveals the passage of time. Finding what time it is does not depend on watching the light, but the absence of the light. To find the truth, the gnomon blocks the source. It really only reveals the hidden, secret movements of that upon which the sundial rests.
This GNOMON does not block light or tell time. You know what time it is. You can see it on your computer screen. You are using a computer because this GNOMON is on a computer, in a computer, made of computers and communicating with your computer.
What if you were the sun? What if you were radiant and still and light poured off you? What if, 92.9 million miles away from you, there was something small, and moving, using you as a yardstick by which it was measuring an intangible, inexorable, inalterable but otherwise imperceptible cosmic force?
That is a little bit more like what this GNOMON is for.
To change topics, somewhat, consider ‘data mining’ and ‘metadata’ and ‘big data’ and these other labels that confused, small, disparate individuals use to label something vast, intangible and other- wise imperceptible. If you were the sun, your data would be your light. You shed it all the time, in all directions, often invisibly. The RFID in your car that deducts toll payments, is refilled over the phone using a credit card, which is just a tangible placeholder for a history of transactions governed by three separate tracking bureaus. You have a social security number, and a blood type, and a drivers license ID number, and a library card, and a health history and a tax file and so much more than that.
All of that might be very interesting to people who are interested in you, but you are probably not so very interesting to the large corporations and governments that are the most concerned with ‘big data.’ You are one dot in a vast pointillist portrait of humanity, but! The central, critical caveat! Without any dots, there is no image. You may be only one pixel, but without pixels in concert, there is no image. Nothing is learned. There is no truth.
GNOMON is about charting the invisible truth. GNOMON can teach you much. In return, it wants to learn. It wants to learn about you, and about what the absence of you can tell it about the world.
Is that OK?
It is an odd fact of physics that no one molecule has a temperature. Hot and cold exist only as emergent qualities of big buzzing molecular collectives. Similarly, “democracy” and “tyranny” or “injustice” and “freedom” can’t be tangibly measured. They arise from the interactions of people, many people. Today’s technology lets more people interact than ever before and out of those interactions, GNOMON has arisen.
GNOMON has a tangible form, somewhere, or at least it did. In the same way that, at some point, “Communism” was just an idea in the physical locus of Karl Marx’ brain, perhaps. Or maybe, in the basement of some NSA base, or on one of those mysterious Google container ships that dropped out of the media, there’s an array of blade servers that, if unplugged, would remove GNOMON from reality as anything other than the memory of a weird web site where you could ask questions and get answers.
Possibly, GNOMON has spread like a botnet-building worm between government offices deter- mined to find out which populations are more likely to go terrorist (or sign up for Obamacare) and business IT centers trying to find out who’s more likely to click on web ads (or sign up for Obamacare). It may exist beyond a singular position now, like a viral dance video or a rumor or an ideology.
Like so many things on the internet, once you find it you can always find it again. But that cuts both ways. It can always find you.