Brief attempts at what is web
What is internet?
When I was a kid, the late ‘80s, “internet” was me running a telephone cord from my parents’ bedroom to a study where we kept the family PC, so I could ask its 2400-baud modem to call an electronic billboard (BBS) in a town next door, such that, after five or ten minutes of connecting – beee BAA cooloo COLOO coloooo ba-di-bah wahhhhhhhhh be-da be-dah SHHHHHhhhhhhhhhh – I could check if anyone left me a message or wanted to play a game.
Internet today is trickier to describe. Soundless, underwater, boxed-off. It’s even harder to describe the internet’s effects; I try to hold them firmly in my mind, they glide away. Plus the internet I know and you know are likely quite different; moreso to an extreme if you live in a different country.
My friend Paul Ford once needed an entire issue of a magazine to explain what is code. He’ll probably need the rest of his life to figure out what is web.
What I find beautiful about the internet is its immensity paired with the invisibility. Sky is blue, air is cold, internet is all around. As of 2021, a third of Earth’s population hadn’t touched it yet, a figure I don’t find staggering but impressive, considering the internet’s relatively recent adoption. How long did it take two-thirds of the planet to touch a car?
The internet is a network of networks, a society. How long until it’s sentient, how long until it produces a religion? Perhaps it did and we don’t acknowledge ourselves as members.
I went from a local BBS to Prodigy, to America Online, to college, where we were the first incoming class to be assigned email addresses. Now, the internet can provoke two-thousand-plus people to wait overnight in a New Jersey mall for a 24-year-old YouTube star’s hamburger restaurant to open.
Internet is routers. Routers are computers. Computers are made from steel, plastic, aluminum, and other metals. So, internet comes from the Earth and may outgrow it, if it hasn’t already.
The internet is my life’s most influential event.
What is internet? Internet is surveillance. Internet is narcotic. Sometimes it’s an incredibly lonely place, especially on social media, as though the zoo hypothesis is not only proved, but personalized.
The internet is the holy ghost of weather systems.
The internet is some people’s entire life.
The internet hates women, though women love it?
Patricia Lockwood, prehaps the internet’s preeminent poet, tried to describe it several years ago – at least the Twitter experience of it – for the London Review of Books, which became her book No One Is Talking About This. She starts:
Inside, it was tropical and snowing, and the first flake of the blizzard of everything landed on her tongue and melted. Close-ups of nail art, a pebble from outer space, a tarantula’s compound eyes, a storm like canned peaches on the surface of Jupiter, Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters, a chihuahua perched on a man’s erection, a garage door spray-painted with the words ‘STOP NOW! DON’T EMAIL MY WIFE!’
I think about how the internet is probably the true overculture, the true outerverse, though barely noticed anymore.
I think of it as the answer to the industrial revolution’s personal ad. As the planet we’re all quickly migrating to, much faster than we’ll ever reach Mars.
Mainly, I think about how the internet is barely formed, very powerful, and very young.
In tomorrow’s Sunday supplement: two favorite new movies, great new albums, and exactly what car brokers do (and why I hired one).
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What the what
Meditations in an Emergency is a weekly essay about something beautiful from author Rosecrans Baldwin. Supporters receive a Sunday supplement with three-plus ideas of things to love, plus a longer piece once a month written in the woods ⛰️