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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 Twenty-Three: Complicating the Internet as a Way of Being: The Case of Cloud Intimacy (Theresa M. Senft)



Complicating the Internet as a Way of Being: The Case of Cloud Intimacy

theresa m. senft

One of my favorite things to screen in class is a video that details how American editor Matt Stopera from Buzzfeed came to meet a random restaurant owner from South China over the Chinese internet (Stopera, 2015). In the video, Stopera explains that a few months earlier, his iPhone had been stolen at a bar—something he had forgotten about, until the day his iCloud began filling up with photos he didn’t recognize, including a set of selfies featuring a Chinese man solemnly standing in an orange grove. After learning from a friend that “most stolen iPhones wind up in China,” Stopera published his story (and the man’s selfies) in a Buzzfeed article titled, “How did this man’s photos wind up on my iPhone?” (2015).

The day after the story was published, Stopera’s Twitter account began filling with notes from Chinese users, urging him to join them on the Chinese microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, where people were trying to locate the man they had nicknamed “Brother Orange.” By the time Stopera had a Weibo account, his story was trending. In a matter of days, the mystery man had been identified as Li Hongjun, a small restaurant owner in the Guangdong Province of South China. Li had never used social media before, but with the help of his nephew, joined Weibo. There, he and Stopera...

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