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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 Five: Turker Computers (Jeff Thompson)



Turker Computers

jeff thompson

Turker Computers is a project that sets out to make visible the personal, varied relationship between a person and their computer. A simple request was made on Amazon’s crowd-labor site Mechanical Turk over a period of approximately a year: take a photograph of your computer, and include a name (or handle/alias) and where you live (as vague as you like). The responses came from locations across the globe, a selection of which is shown in this art reel. The images from this project turn the webcam around, not showing the people who populate the internet, or make the internet work, but the machines we collaborate with to access it and the spaces in which we use them.

The images of the technology economy we see most often are of hip offices, open floorplans, and ping-pong tables. But many of the online services that we think of as being digital are in fact a modulation of automation and human intervention (cf. Sarah T. Roberts’ new book Behind the Screen (2019) for a critical take on the invisible work of content moderation). Our experience with our computer, seemingly intimate and one-directional, is very often mirrored on the other end by a tech laborer and their machine. While having humans perform physical computation isn’t new,1 seeing the physical space in which this work happens makes the issue of class very clear. Turkers (the name given by this community...

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