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Metaphors of Internet

Ways of Being in the Age of Ubiquity


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 Three: Losing Your Internet: Narratives of Decline among Long-Time Users (Kevin Driscoll)



Losing Your Internet: Narratives of Decline among Long-Time Users

kevin driscoll

Annette Markham’s Life Online (1998) documents an historical conjuncture in which the visibility of the Internet in popular culture outpaced hands-on access for most Americans. At the time that Markham was completing her fieldwork, approximately one-third of Americans reported using the Internet, most of whom were white, wealthy, highly educated, and male (Rainie, 2017). Yet, for half a decade, news and entertainment media had been saturated with stories of the Internet as a technical marvel, economic opportunity, social revolution, and moral threat (Schulte, 2013; Streeter, 2017). Every few months, the cover of Time magazine added a new dimension to the Internet story, from the “info highway” in 1993, to the “cyberporn” panic in 1995, dot-com “golden geeks” in 1996, and the “death of privacy” in 1997. Beyond these sensational headlines, friends and coworkers gossiped about relationships and romances forming online. Early users of the Internet were similarly enthusiastic and many shared a sense that computer-mediated communication might transform the social world. Even Markham described her initial observations of the internet and its growing user population as “astounding” and “extraordinary” (1998, pp. 16–17). At the turn of the century, the Internet seemed charged with unknown possibility.

Twenty years later, the structure of feeling that characterized early encounters with the Internet has changed. For millions of people, computer-mediated communication is now an unremarkable aspect of everyday life. In comparison to...

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