Why do you insist that the human genetic code is “sacred” or “taboo”? It is a chemical process and nothing more. For that matter we are chemical processes and nothing more. If you deny yourself a useful tool simply because it reminds you uncomfortably of your mortality, you have uselessly and pointlessly crippled yourself.
– Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Looking God in the Eye”
The transition from the first technological tier to the second is most pronounced in the transition from Information Networks to Planetary Networks. The former is all about getting things to work in the first place – to ensure that there are computers that can work under the conditions of the new planet, and that they can talk to each other in a rudimentary fashion. In a sense, it’s like setting up a home network: immensely useful once done, but ultimately local in scale. It is a requirement to setting up a planetary network, but the work ahead requires a very different set of steps than those already taken. If the home router stops working, you can just restart it. The same can not be said for a global network connecting everyone and – if there are aliens – everything.
Framing this as a technology rather than a secret project forces us to make a number of assumptions about the world of Alpha Centauri. One is that research projects necessarily entail some manner of physical implementation of the things researched. In this case, the physical infrastructure necessary to get the planetary network in question up and running: cables, relays, comm towers, routers, TCP/IP protocols of the future, whatever it takes to get information flowing from here to there to everywhere. The network node facilities are part of this, but they have a sense of being particularly good instances of infrastructure, rather than being the infrastructure itself. Not having a local node does not mean not being connected to the emergent network; it just means the connection might not always be top notch.
A second assumption is that all factions, despite potentially being at war with each other, agree on the fundamental necessity of building this network. There are no gameplay mechanics related to opting out of the global datalinks, nor are the difficulties of setting them up ever mentioned (outside of the cost of researching this technology). The network, it is assumed, is taken for granted in the future. One way or another, it will come to pass.
Perhaps it is in this sense we are meant to read Yang’s quote. Not just in the light of his enlightened nihilism, but in the relentless usefulness of technologies and the way they impose themselves on us. Opting out of the planetary network is not an alternative on the table, nor is it considered at any length whatsoever. The fact that the network connects everyone to everyone – be they friend or foe, researcher or hacker, trade caravan or probe team – is of secondary importance to the fact that those who are not connected are crippled. The network is a technological process and nothing more. The reference to genetic code simply underscores just how integrated technology is in the human condition on Chiron; without it, we are nothing. It foreshadows what is to come.