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Metaphors of Internet

Ways of Being in the Age of Ubiquity

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Edited By Annette N. Markham and Katrin Tiidenberg

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.

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Chapter One: Ways of Being in the Digital Age (Annette N. Markham)

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CHAPTER ONE

Ways of Being in the Digital Age

annette n. markham

Between 1995 and 1997, I conducted an ethnographic study of people who considered themselves “heavy users” of the internet. Representing only a small slice of lived experience in the early digital age, my participants taught me to move, emote, and build my identities in their own worlds. It was a time when terms like Virtual Reality and Cyberspace were used without irony. The creative use of text produced images, maps, and emotions. In this space, I:

wanted to know why people spent so much time online. I wondered what cyberspace meant to them, how it affected or changed their lives. I wanted to know how they were making sense of their experiences as they shifted between being in the physical world and being in these textual worlds created by the exchange of messages, where they could re-create their bodies, or leave them behind. (1998, p. 17)

The book that emerged from this ethnography, Life Online: Researching Real Experiences in Virtual Space, is a document of its era. The early Internet. This was a time in history when some people would spend 2 hours online and call that “heavy use” while others would spend 18. The visual web didn’t exist on any large scale yet. The people I observed and interviewed for the book used it for many different reasons, with different degrees of attachment and commitment. Most considered...

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