Net Art && Cultures: HyperLinks
Watch my intro on How To / Why Make Internet Art for an introduction to the theoretical framework we'll be using to approach our subject matter throughout this course. If you haven't already, make sure to review the syllabus and watch my video on it (both of which are linked on the homepage) and answer the survey questions I sent to the entire class via email.
Act I: Internet Ecology
life will be happier for the on-line individual because the people with whom one interacts most strongly will be selected more by commonality of interests and goals than by accidents of proximity
J.C.R. Licklider && Robert W. Taylor. 1968.
In 1968, when the first two computers came online and before “online” meant anything to anyone, two of the Internet’s creators wrote, “life will be happier for the online individual because the people with whom one interacts most strongly will be selected more by commonality of interests and goals than by accidents of proximity.” In 1973 email was the “killer app”; today it’s social media. From BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) of the 1980s to subreddits today, the Internet has always been about community.
In 1997, Michael and Ronda Hauben wrote that, "a new world of connections between people—either privately, from individual to individual, or publicly, from individuals to the collective mass of many on the Net—is possible. The old model of distribution of information from the central Network Broadcasting Company is being questions and challenged. The top-down model of information being distributed by a few for mass consumption is no longer the only news. Netnews brings the power of the report to the Netizen. People now have the ability to broadcast their observations or questions around the world and have other people respond. The computer networks form a new grassroots connection that allows excluded sections of society to have a voice. This new medium is unprecedented." At the time, this was meant to feel utopian, today 20 years later, amid the onslaught of mis/disinformation we're facing, it reads almost dystopian.
Does the Internet help bring the world together, to "consider everyone as [our] compatriot" (Hauben) in a "global village" (Marshall McLuhan)? Or is it splitting us apart into warring tribes, each living in our own virtual realities? Does the Internet's decentralized nature challenge conventional control structures and give the power to the people? Or could the further dismantling of the old hierarchical information systems lead to chaos, confusion and the end of democracy?
WTF is the Internet?
The Internet's "anarchy" may seem strange or even unnatural, but it makes a certain deep and basic sense. It's rather like the "anarchy" of the English language. Nobody rents English, and nobody owns English. As an English-speaking person, it's up to you to learn how to speak English properly and make whatever use you please of it. Otherwise, everybody just sort of pitches in, and somehow the thing evolves on its own, and somehow turns out workable. And interesting. Fascinating, even. Though a lot of people earn their living from using and exploiting and teaching English, "English" as an institution is public property, a public good. Much the same goes for the Internet.
The Internet is often described as a "cloud", an amorphous entity that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. This sort of magical thinking does us a disservice as artists. If we hope to make meaningful work with the Internet that also speaks to living in a world mediated by the Internet, it would help if we knew what it really was.
The Internet is actually a very real, very physical thing. You can touch it, you can smell it, it has a "delicious old odor" as Leonard Kleinrock put it. The Internet exists in time and space, and came into existence at specific time[s] and place[s]. Maybe it started in "deep military secrecy" within a "Cold War think-tank" as science fiction writer Bruce Sterling writes in his "Short History of the Internet". Or maybe "ground zero" for the "birth place of the Internet" was actually a dingy university classroom in California, as filmmaker Werner Herzog narrates in his existential documentary "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World." Or maybe it didn't happen in the United States at all? Maybe it started in a British Laboratory? Or maybe a French Laboratory?
Where did the Internet come from? When was it created? Who created it? And, perhaps most importantly, Why? To answer these questions...
What is the Internet, literally, physically. Where is the Internet? What's it made of, how does it work? To answer these questions...