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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-Four: Echolocating the Digital Self (Annette N. Markham)



Echolocating the Digital Self

annette n. markham

Bats send out a stream of shrieks as they fly and use the returning echoes to build up a sonic map of their surroundings. The quality of the echo is used to determine the shape and location of objects in space. Bats can tell how far away something is by how long it takes for the sounds to return to them.

How is this related to lived experience of contemporary digital media?

In an era of constant connectivity and “always on” or more importantly, “always available” internet, mapping the Self occurs as we receive feedback from continual flows of information. The seemingly seamless and steady state of connectivity is, at the more granular level, a process of continual echolocation, in the way we might think of radar, sonar, or lidar, whereby the outline of an object in space is determined by sending a stream of signals and attending closely to the quality of the echo.

At the micro-interactional level, echolocation focuses our attention on what’s happening in the constant flow of consciousness; at the level of the existential, between the I and the me, between the body and the world; to identify limits and boundaries between things, to assign meaning to various inputs and stimuli.

In the early days of the Internet, Richard MacKinnon (1995) remarked that it is no longer adequate to say “I think, therefore...

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