The internet(s) as metaphor, the internet(s) as craft

Like most people who read this blog, I spend a lot of time thinking about the internet. I’ve come to realize that there isn’t really one internet, there are many, and these many internets are the result of the different practices and workarounds that individuals and communities have developed to make the internet meet their needs.  As part of the Digital Culture Symposium at the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn, I organized a workshop called Meta/Hacking the Internet.  I wanted the workshop to open up a way of thinking about the many-ness of the internet. At the same time, I wanted to think about materiality, partly because there’s a stubborn tendency to think of the interent as abstract and cerebral, partly because traditional academic settings are often themselves abstract and cerebral.  So I invited four people – activists, artists, academics and social media practitioners – to share their favorite metaphors for the internet.  Sean Brown used the metaphor of fire to talk about the utility and dangers of the internet. Sara Leavens talked about the transition from cyberspace to web as a metaphor, while tracing connections between poetry and the internet. For Damien Luxe, the internet is best thought of as an open mic, while Hector Postigo​ likened the internet to play doh.


(All photos by Kyle Cassidy)

Then the real fun started.  I told attendees to reach under the tables where they were sitting and pull out boxes of craft supplies.  Four boxes corresponded to each of the metaphors, and a fifth box allowed people to choose their own metaphor.  We didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to craft our metaphors, but it was still a really fun way to think about the discourses around the internet as well as its materiality.  And there was really great energy in the room as people came together and made artifacts to represent fire, cyberspace –> web, open mic night and play doh.