Ingrid Burrington asks, 
"How do you see the Internet?"
Over the past two years, I've asked a lot of people this question. It's a question often met with confusion or requests for clarification. Do I mean "What do you think about the Internet, like in the grand scheme of things?" or "How do you think the Internet works?" or "How do you access the Internet?" Really, I'm asking all three.

Sometimes it helps to start with that last question: how people access or use the Internet. For most people, the answer is that they see the Internet through screens browsers and apps on laptops and phones. Sometimes people will point at a router, vaguely understanding that's the device their Wi-Fi connection comes from.

Once I understand the specifics of how someone interfaces with the Internet, I'll ask the second question: "How do you think the Internet works, and how do you visualize that process?" At this, answers vary, though they tend to follow three common trajectories, each one aligning well to certain tropes seen in stock photos and illustrations sometimes used to describe "the Internet."
“I have no idea, maybe black magic.”
This answer sometimes involves hand-waving and anx-ious, slightly apologetic faces. To be fair, there are a lot of bad stock images out there that support that answer-which is to say, they make the mechanisms of the Internet appear impossibly complicated and opaque. You may have seen these sorts of images. Sometimes it's a man at the peak of an over-Photoshopped mountain, his arms reaching for a giant laptop in the sky from which fluffy white clouds emerge. Other times, it's a different man (always men in these weird dreamscapes, usually wearing ties), hands cradling poorly rendered collages of computers and a globe floating in some ethereal mist that could be data traveling across the network-or could be fairies, no one really knows.

Ironically, some of these baffling images emerge from attempts to make the Internet seem less complicated, through metaphors like "the cloud." Metaphors can be useful teaching tools, but when all that people know about the Internet are metaphors, it tends to make their understanding of it more clouded, not less.

Continues in New York City ...
April 9, 2024
How do you see the Internet?

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