Metaphors of Internet

Ways of Being in the Age of Ubiquity

by Annette N. Markham (Volume editor) Katrin Tiidenberg (Volume editor)
©2020 Textbook XVIII, 276 Pages
Series: Digital Formations, Volume 122


What happens when the internet is absorbed into everyday life? How do we make sense of something that is invisible but still so central? A group of digital culture experts address these questions in Metaphors of Internet: Ways of Being in the Age of Ubiquity.
Twenty years ago, the internet was imagined as standing apart from humans. Metaphorically it was a frontier to explore, a virtual world to experiment in, an ultra-high-speed information superhighway. Many popular metaphors have fallen out of use, while new ones arise all the time. Today we speak of data lakes, clouds and AI. The essays and artwork in this book evoke the mundane, the visceral, and the transformative potential of the internet by exploring the currently dominant metaphors. Together they tell a story of kaleidoscopic diversity of how we experience the internet, offering a richly textured glimpse of how the internet has both disappeared and at the same time, has fundamentally transformed everyday social customs, work, and life, death, politics, and embodiment.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Early Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures and Table
  • Acknowledgments
  • Section 1: Introducing the Metaphors of the Internet
  • Chapter One: Ways of Being in the Digital Age (Annette N. Markham)
  • Chapter Two: A wormhole, a Home, an Unavoidable Place. Introduction to “Metaphors of the Internet” (Katrin Tiidenberg)
  • Chapter Three: Losing Your Internet: Narratives of Decline among Long-Time Users (Kevin Driscoll)
  • Section 2: Ways of Doing
  • Chapter Four: Workplace-Making among Mobile Freelancers (Nadia Hakim-Fernández)
  • Chapter Five: Turker Computers (Jeff Thompson)
  • Chapter Six: Migration of Self (Tijana Hirsch)
  • Chapter Seven: Pinball Machines, Cardboard Cutouts, and Private Parties: Three Metaphors for Conceptualizing Memetic Spread (Whitney Phillips)
  • Chapter Eight: ‘Instagrammable’ as a Metaphor for Looking and Showing in Visual Social Media (Katrin Tiidenberg)
  • Section 3: Ways of Relating
  • Chapter Nine: Growing Up and Growing Old on the Internet: Influencer Life Courses and the Internet as Home (Crystal Abidin)
  • Chapter Ten: Remixing the Music Fan Experience: Rock Concerts in Person and Online (Andee Baker)
  • Chapter Eleven: Chronotope (Cathy Fowley)
  • Chapter Twelve: Ecologies for Connecting across Generations (Anette Grønning)
  • Chapter Thirteen: The Unavoidable Place: How Parents Manage the Socially Mediated Visibility of Their Young Children (Priya C. Kumar)
  • Section 4: Ways of Becoming
  • Chapter Fourteen: Trans-being (Son Vivienne)
  • Chapter Fifteen: Popular Music Reception: Tools of Future-Making, Spaces, and Possibilities of Being (Craig Hamilton and Sarah Raine)
  • Chapter Sixteen: Co-becoming Hybrid Entities through Collaboration (Maria Schreiber and Patricia Prieto-Blanco)
  • Chapter Seventeen: Interview with Artist Cristina Nuñez
  • Chapter Eighteen: Trans-constituting Place Online (Katie Warfield)
  • Section 5: Ways of Being With
  • Chapter Nineteen: Facebook as a Wormhole between Life and Death (Tobias Raun)
  • Chapter Twenty: A Vigil for Some Bodies (xtine burrough)
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Screenshooting Life Online: Two Artworks (Sarah Schorr and Winnie Soon)
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Hurricane Season: Annual Assessments of Loss (Daisy Pignetti)
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Complicating the Internet as a Way of Being: The Case of Cloud Intimacy (Theresa M. Senft)
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Echolocating the Digital Self (Annette N. Markham)
  • Section 6: Whose Internet? Whose Metaphors?
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: Metaphoric Meltdowns: Debates over the Meaning of Blogging on Israblog (Carmel Vaisman)
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: Political Ideologies of Online Spaces: Anarchist Models for Boundary Making (Jessa Lingel)
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: No Country for IT-Men: Post-Soviet Internet Metaphors of Who and How Interacts with the Internet (Polina Kolozaridi, Anna Shchetvina, and Katrin Tiidenberg)
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: Remixed into Existence: Life Online as The Internet Comes of Age (Ryan M. Milner)
  • References
  • About the Authors
  • Index
  • Series index

Figures and Table


Figure 1.1: IRC chat client, basic interface in 1998. Source: Screenshot from Google image search. Attribution unavailable, original image has unknown provenance.

Figure 1.2: MUSH client for interacting in multiple multi user dimensions at once, circa 1998, actual date unknown. Source: Screenshot taken by Nick Gammon. Image CC BY 3.0 AU.

Figure 1.3: ASCII text map of PhoenixMUD, photographer unknown. Source: Image CC BY 3.0, Martin Dodge.

Figure 1.4: Cospace, a browser prototype emphasizing users as avatars and transportation to websites through portals. Source: Screenshot by Martin Dodge originally appeared in the Atlas of Cyberspace project. Attribution of source material for screenshot: Cospace.org., interface developed by Thomas Kirk and Peter Selfridge at AT&T Labs, circa 1998.

Figure 1.5: Geographic depiction of size of search engines in 2000, as visualized by the company antarti.ca in 2000 (later known as Map.Net). Source: Screenshot by Martin Dodge originally appeared in the Atlas of Cyberspace project. Attribution of source material for screenshot: Map.Net., circa 2000.

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Figure 1.6: CityOfNews, an experimental interface by Flavia Sparacino, MIT Media Lab, 1996–2000. Source: Screenshot by Martin Dodge originally appeared in the Atlas of Cyberspace project. Attribution of source material for screenshot: Flavia Sparacino, circa 2000.

Figure 1.7: Corning advertisement envisioning a future with embedded smart technologies. Source: Screenshot taken by Annette Markham on 9 September 2019. Attribution of source material for screenshot: Corning, Inc., online advertisement. YouTube.

Figure 1.8: Mark Deuze’s 2012 book cover, depicting digital media as water to a fish. Source: Courtesy of Mark Deuze

Figure 4.1: Screencaptures of author. Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 4.2: Broken cables. Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 4.3: The fragility of the internet in the mobile workplace. Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 4.4: Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 4.5: Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 4.6: Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 4.7: Brussels, 26 December 2016. Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 4.8: Photo of my setting and sessions with Yenny. Source: Nadia Hakim-Fernández

Figure 5.1: Sam.

Figure 5.2: Bellevue, USA.

Figure 5.3: Cheddar, USA.

Figure 5.4: Jessica, USA.

Figure 5.5: Tenna, USA.

Figure 5.6: Medford, New York.

Figure 5.7: Bobbatron, Hawaii.

Figure 5.8: Parkland, Florida.

Figure 5.9: Dylan, Kuala Lumpur.

Figure 5.10: Nana, Nettleton.

Figure 5.11: White Sands, New Mexico.

Figure 5.12: The Mouse, Portland, Oregon.

Figure 10.1: Mick Jagger and fans on screen. From London Stadium 2 concert, May 25, 2018. Source: Courtesy of Ben Cragg.

Figure 10.2: “Keith Richards, onstage.” Still photo from Periscope of Lucca, Italy concert, September 23, 2017. Source: Courtesy of Debbie “Tiger” Millsap.

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Figure 10.3: “Mick Jagger onstage.” Still photo from Periscope of Lucca, Italy concert, September 23, 2017. Source: Courtesy of Debbie “Tiger” Millsap.

Figure 10.4: “Crowd facing stage.” Still photo from Periscope of Zurich, Switzerland show, September 20, 2017. Source: Periscope and photo from it by Debbie “Tiger” Millsap.

Figure 10.5: “Pre-show crowd, facing stage.” Still photo from Periscope of London Twickingham show, June 19, 2018. Source: Courtesy Debbie “Tiger” Millsap

Figure 14.1: Incoherent/Coherent Self. Source: Son Vivienne

Figure 14.2: Stories Beyond Gender Zine. Source: Son Vivienne

Figure 14.3: Multiple profiles across platforms. Source: Son Vivienne

Figure 16.1: Meta-text-production. Source: Maria Schreiber and Patricia Prieto-Blanco

Figure 16.2: “patri and maria—editorial room.” Source: Maria Schreiber

Figure 16.3: Physical and mediated spaces entangled. Source: Patricia Prieto-Blanco

Figure 16.4: Video-mediated Intimacy. Source: Maria Schreiber

Figure 16.5: Screenshot of Skype conversation. Source: Maria Schreiber and Patricia Prieto-Blanco

Figure 16.6: Sketch of Visualization: Metaphors of how we relate to each other through tool, place, way of being together. Source: Maria Schreiber and Patricia Prieto-Blanco

Figure 17.1: Self-portrait in Mauthausen, 1995. Source: Cristina Nuñez

Figure 17.2: -5º C self-portrait, 2004. Source: Cristina Nuñez

Figure 17.3: Higher Self Portrait. Source: Cristina Nuñez

Figure 20.1: Workers are hired to remember someone they love in burrough’s Human Intelligent Task (HIT) on Mturk.com. Source: xtine burrough

Figure 20.2: burrough hires workers to share their memories.Source: xtine burrough

Figure 20.3: Modified LED candles, purchased on Amazon, to bring the workers’ memories to public spaces. Source: xtine burrough

Figure 20.4: To conduct a vigil, burrough brought candles to an Amazon Fulfillment Center (AFC) in Coppell, Texas. Source: xtine burrough

Figure 20.5: Candles sitting atop the Amazon Fulfillment Center (DFW6) sign, Coppell, Texas. Source: xtine burrough

Figure 20.6: Waiting for the Drug Test, 2015, Amazon Fulfillment Center (DFW6), Coppell, Texas. Source: xtine burrough

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Figure 20.7: Taking the Drug Test, 2015, Amazon Fulfillment Center (DFW6), Coppell, Texas. Source: xtine burrough

Figure 20.8: Cardboard cubicles for an installation of the vigil first exhibited at the International Digital Media and Art (iDMAa) conference in October, 2016. Source: xtine burrough

Figure 20.9: A mid-shot of the installation, International Digital Media and Arts Association (iDMAa) Annual Conference Exhibit, Winona, MN, October 2016. Source: xtine burrough

Figure 21.1: Collaging the digital remains of life online. Source: Sarah Schorr

Figure 21.2: Sarah Schorr applies a tattoo to a visitor’s skin during the exhibition opening at Galleri Image in Denmark. Source: Mikkel Kaldal, Courtesy of Galleri Image 2019.

Figure 21.3: Sarah Schorr invites participants to send photographs of their tattoos as they fade. These collected images are adapted and incorporated into the installation. Source: Sarah Schorr

Figure 21.4: An example of the screenshot of Unerasable Images, which is taken on 2017-02-22 at 9.38.26 p.m. Source: Winnie Soon

Figure 21.5: Nine selected images from Unerasable Images. Source: Winnie Soon.

Figure 21.6: Unerasable Images, 2018 HD Video. Source: Winnie Soon

Figure 22.1: Text and Image from my personal blog. Source: Doctor Daisy (Pignetti, 2007).

Figure 22.2: January 2010 photo of my brother in front of the empty lot at 5766 Cameron Blvd. With the physical referent of my house completely gone, so was the stability of a life lived in one place. Source: Daisy Pignetti

Figure 22.3: Screenshot taken March 3, 2010 (Pignetti, 2010). Source: Daisy Pignetti

Figure 22.4: The Author in Santorini, Greece. “Be a New Orleanian. wherever you are.” Source: Daisy Pignetti

Figure 25.1: “I’m also being studied by Carmel” Hebrew blog badge. Source: Carmel Vaisman

Figure 25.2: “Doctor Blog” design theme as designed by one of the teenage bloggers. Source: Carmel Vaisman

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Figure 25.3: “Miss Israblog” header on the official management blog. Source: Screenshot by Carmal Vaisman.


XVIII, 276
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XVIII, 276 pp., 4 b/w ill., 63 color ill., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Annette N. Markham (Volume editor) Katrin Tiidenberg (Volume editor)

Annette N. Markham (Professor of Media & Communication at RMIT University) is a pioneering researcher of digital culture. Her foundational ethnographic studies of mediated identities and lived experience through the Internet is well represented in her first book, Life Online: Researching Real Experience in Virtual Space. She is a globally recognized expert on rethinking frameworks for research practice in digitally saturated contexts, as well as her work around ethics of care and impact needed for building better futures in algorithmic societies. Markham is founder and director of Future Making Research Consortium and STEEM: Center for the Study of Technological, Ethical, and Emerging Methods. Katrin Tiidenberg (Professor of Visual Culture & Social Media at Tallinn University) is a digital sociologist and author of Sex and Social Media (with Emily van der Nagel), Selfies: Why We Love (and Hate) Them, and Body and Soul on the Internet: Making Sense of Social Media (in Estonian). She is currently writing and publishing on the deplatforming of sex on social media, visual social media practices, and digital research ethics. Tiidenberg is on the Executive Board of the Association of Internet Researchers and the Estonian Young Academy of Sciences.


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