12.5.08

Things that are like the Internets

Sometimes I think about the Internets, and how they're awesome. And I'm not the only one! This seems to be a common theme on internet blogs and websites! Many people enjoy discussing the awesomeness of the Internets, especially while they are writing on it.

But I'm convinced that these serieses of tubes are not a completely new phenomenon. Internets-y things have existed before... things that link people and juxtapose unlike and like things in streams and networks of evolving webs and shapes... all horizontal and distributed &c.

So, here's a list of things that are like the Internets:

Walter Benjamin is a famous philosopher who enjoyed writing about technology, history, and Marxism. He lived in Germany and France during the 20s and 30s, and died while fleeing from the Nazis.

His final project is a large work of small bits called the Arcades Project, which is a strange and alphabetically catalogued book of small excerpts of facts and quotes about the experience of consumerism in early 19th c. Parisian shopping malls and department stores. He quotes frequently from Baudelaire, and talks about "the flaneur", who represents the way in which colonial consumption and urban experience intersected during the Industrial era.

It's like the Internets because: There's no way to read this book from beginning to end. Each little segment is "linked" with a reference, and there's no intervening narrator or narrative voice to guide you through the text. Instead, you are forced to jump around, turning pages as each little "link" sends you to some other part of the book.


  • A public library.
Most every city has a building in it containing books owned by the government, and any resident can go inside and "borrow" these books, take them home, look around, learn things, and hang out.

These buildings are gradually falling into disrepair, as their civic budgets are continually cut. Some of them are struggling to cope with the internets, which (as you know) allow anyone to access limitless information from their homes. Some of them are capitalizing on these Internets, by providing open access to them from inside their walls.

It's like the Internets because: When you're browsing for a book on a library shelf, you're guided into a "section" containing books of very similar subject matter. For example, if you're looking for a book on urban planning, you will find, not one, but fifty books on urban planning in a library. So, too, the Internets allow you to find "similar" items... as one sidewalk blog leads to another.

  • Message boards in cities.
Back in the day, there used to be parts of town that were known for having messages on the walls of the buildings on the street. For example, Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn was well known for having a message board, and people would post message for others in the neighborhood to see and look at. If you needed a job, or were looking for a good time, you would put a message up and people would walk along the sidewalk and read the messages. This happened on the street, and nobody organized it.

It's like the Internets because: It's exactly like the Internets! The only difference is that you had to physically be there in order to read the messages. The Internets allow you to be anywhere, and communicate with anyone ... (though the vast majority of readership of this Twin City Sidewalks blog still lives in the Twin Cities, for some reason.)

  • Okeh's Laughing Record.
As stated on a strange message board:
The OKeh Laughing Record, by the way, was a German recording imported to the US around 1920, and was one of the top-selling records of the decade. Bootleg copies were sold under many different labels over the years, and it was still turning up in one version or another well into the fifties.

It's a song, which you can listen to here, (or here) of a man playing a tune on the solo trumpet while a lady laughs her ass off (over and over, peals of laughter, ROTFL, &c.) while the man plays on and on this song on the trumpet ... and eventually as this goes on, the man starts laughing too and soon they're both laughing for a while, before he continues his trumpet song while the lady keeps laughing.



That's the record!


It's like the Internets because: It is all about mediated experience. Far more important than the tune being played, is the experience of listening to someone else listening to the tune. You start laughing because you hear this lady laughing, and soon you're laughing and the trumpet player is laughing, and you're all laughing and space and time have been transcended. It's about experiencing a "phenomenon", rather than music per se, and like the comment threads of blogs the laughing lady is helping you experience the phonograph (a revolutionary product of its era!). Much like "two girls one cup", the fun is in experiencing someone's experience, rather than the experience itself (if that makes any sense).

  • Times Square.
The corner of Broadway, 7th Avenue, and 42nd Street is a large square in New York City that has long been known for its neon signage. You go there and are immediately overwhelmed by image, a spectacle of light and message, a semantic flood of information. At New Years a ball drops and millions of people hang out "to say they were there." It glows like the sun at all hours of the day and night, and movies have been watched there for almost a century.

It's like the Internets because: when you go, you are forced to "filter" the information around you. You simply cannot take it all in. Instead, you grab onto a small detail in the square and experience only it, filtering out all the other "noise" surrounding you in so much seizure-inducing light. Just like the way in which you "filter" the Internets with your RSS feed or your search engine, Times Square presents a sensory overload within which you must make your way, ever incomplete.

  • Tumeric.
Tumeric is a fine spice that, as wikpedia says:
is sometimes used as a coloring agent. It has found application in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes orange juice, biscuits, popcorn-color, sweets, cake icings, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.


It's like the Internets because: It's a rhizome. Rhizomes grows in networks, sending off shoots underground in various directions, and lacking a distinct or clear center. Rhizomes can be very very large, and its impossible to tell sometimes where they "begin" or "end," as they continually flow in to any given direction, making it difficult to distinguish whether or not you're discussing "one" or "many" separate organisms. The Internets is exactly the same... where does one site begin and another end? Where is the "Center" of the internets? The Google HQ? (Plus, tumeric apparently helps you remember things for a long time... and the internets never forgets either.)

  • The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
As wikipedia again explains:
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, founded in 1826, was a Whiggish London organization that published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material for the rapidly expanding reading public. It was established mainly at the instigation of Lord Brougham with the objects of publishing information to people who were unable to obtain formal teaching, or who preferred self-education. The Society was sometimes mentioned in contemporary sources as SDUK.

It's like the Internets because: The Penny Magazine was intended for the "everyday person", and because of the recent fall in the price of paper, the 1830s saw a flowering of small print journals that contained "information" for people moving to and concentrating in the rapidly-growing cities. The Penny Magazine was an almost encyclopedic tome of information, juxtaposing things like architecture next to diatribes about the working classes next to long descriptions of foodstuffs (e.g. butter, sugar, tumeric) next to woodcuts of savage beasts in the jungle.


In sum: I hope you enjoyed this list of things that are like the Internets.

What do you think? What else is like the Internets?

Here's one!

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