August 12, 2016

The internet as magic. Credit: Wiennat Mongkulmann / Flickr Creative Commons

The internet’s been called a lot of things -- the great equalizer, a distraction, what's ruining millennials. But what about a work of art?

Writer Virginia Heffernan has been interested in the internet since before it was even called the internet, and she focuses on it as a cultural phenomenon.

“All that stuff -- do you write in all caps? Are you going to be one of those people that makes reply all mistakes? Those were there at the beginning,” Heffernan said. “The story of the internet is usually told as an engineering story and as a business story, a military story, but I want to make a case that it’s also been a cultural story.”

She explains that the internet is so impressively massive and has such cultural significance that she thinks it functions as a kind of art in our society.

“I do think that there’s a possibility of beholding the internet as you might a great painting or the David or another work that brings chills to your spine,” Heffernan said. “To think of the internet, writ large, as this collective work of art, this new civilization, that we are extraordinarily lucky to get to be present at the genesis of.”

But more than just a work of art, the internet’s also a global force, one that Heffernan realizes presents its own sets of problems.

As evidenced by upheavals in certain fields -- music, entertainment, journalism -- people have to adapt to the internet if they want to stay afloat. Just as plays had to change form for television, the internet has its own rules and requirements.

And some people take issue with people being wrapped up in the internet sphere, which -- like reading -- offers more of a symbolic existence.

Heffernan explains that it is important to be present, a task that technology and the internet make difficult. She’s noticed that her internet involvement has affected her children, as they’re conscious of how photos of them do on social media.

“I thought about the amount of time I was looking at my children through my phone, and then also going over the pictures,” she said. “That called my attention to the importance of very focused meditation practice to say, ‘be here in the present.’”

And with the thousands of cat videos online… that’s tough.

The Internet, Culture, technology, virginia heffernan, art

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