Internet Generation

At a talk, a familiar thread: the younger generation and their computers; they don’t have a connection to materiality, they don’t think about medium, or place, or tradition, or history. This time it was poets; the last time architects. Their products are equally ungrounded, and to someone with even a modicum of ‘local’ historical knowledge exude an unavoidable sense of pointlessness. One of the speakers argues that their stylistic concerns are probably alien to an Internet generation confronted instead with the ability to “let it all go,” a kind of terrible freedom where one can throw out margins, typeface, privacy, manners, the whole deal. I try to identify. Sure, when I travel I sometimes have a hard time telling the location apart from the facebook album, though the same has been said about photography in general. I can’t really remember anything, I don’t really care where I live, nor do I really understand how to get worked up anymore over matters of taste — having been able to get any sort of music imaginable since college has taught me I can ‘like’ almost anything with minimal effort — but I can’t say my experience of any of these things comes with a greater sense of ‘freedom.’

Is there any mode of writing more constricting than Internet writing? I mean in terms of form, of course, not (unless one is dealing with censorship) content. Another helpful analogy can be drawn to taste. It’s often claimed that the Internet offers its users unprecedented possibilities for self-fashioning, by opening an ever-expanding archive of culture to  sampling, editing, remixing, reproduction, etc. The problem is how to filter all this information in interesting and/or useful ways; essentially how to theorize it.

I find this perspective superficial. For one, it assumes that variety automatically equals freedom. Even if we go along with its implicit restriction of our view to the field of consumption, we have to acknowledge that all the Internet does is reduce the distance between advertisement and product and expand its potential reach, thus accelerating the cycle for each individual product. In order to follow a scene, I’m immediately obligated to become conversant in whatever it is the second it shows up on the blogs — nothing is hard to find anymore, I have no excuse not to know it and have little time to develop a personal taste that is any more than irrelevant dilettantism; if something is encountered by ‘chance’ it has no time to sink in, only to immediately become part of a scene or disappear. There is an expanding universe of tastes, but they are not individual. The work of constructing and participating in one or more scenes is increasingly the point, leaving far behind the old humanist ideal of self-knowledge through a deep personal experience of art. The Internet is another terrain for the capture of subjectivities, is able to do so more quickly and in some ways more comprehensively than print, cinema, or television, and leaves even less room for personal ‘freedom.’ If the avant-gardes were split between l’art pour l’art and its destruction through collision with everyday life, today we could say the principle of motion for art in the Internet Age is scenes for their own sake. An anemic conception to be sure, but poised on a powder keg, or, depending on your interests, a big pile of money.

Which brings me to the next faulty assumption: that all this variety should lead to increased creativity. If we mean creativity in the kind of general market-friendly sense that every Flickr photo is creative, then obviously it does. However, the Internet is a giant parody of the idea that novelty, as the engine of cultural development, is produced by recombining previous material into new forms. Though it seems nice and rational, its assumption that everything is always already translatable (that everything can potentially be ‘recombined’) inevitably leads to the romantic notion of original ideas as mysterious, uncaused, etc. We can call this the entropic-messianic theory of cultural production, wherein all means of establishing sense are assumed to have collapsed into an equilibrium state and we’re all just waiting around for Godot. Or we could just call it postmodernism. But significant art — the language is so outmoded — is generated through struggle with tradition or with something else, not a full shopping cart. The components have to mean something before they can be used for anything besides derivatives.  Comparatively information-deprived regional cultures and their unpredictable relations have produced most of humanity’s stock of ‘masterpieces.’ As an aside, maybe it’s time to look beyond (or before) novelty as the ultimate standard for culture.

Writing on the Internet immediately threatens ‘authors’ with their ‘audience’ — the moment one stops thinking of oneself as an isolated performer on stage is when conversation can begin, but doing this requires the abandonment of all concern for developing one’s ‘craft.’ When language fully enters a sphere of universal equivalence as text, (and can be translated, quantified, plugged into search algorithms); then communicability and transparency of meaning are finally God; one retires from the divine the more readily one can define one’s addressees against the universal, ‘common reader’ (which is not to say that there is such a thing). I should add that putting writing on the Internet is not quite the same thing as Internet writing. The former is frequently the object, but never the subject of the latter, and can always be skipped.

But we are (as ever) rapidly approaching a redefinition of the term ‘art,’ and at the moment I’m forced to beat a hasty retreat.

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7 Responses to “Internet Generation”

  1. Patrick J. Mullins Says:

    This is a gorgeous post. Good for you.

    ‘having been able to get any sort of music imaginable since college has taught me I can ‘like’ almost anything with minimal effort — but I can’t say my experience of any of these things comes with a greater sense of ‘freedom.’’

    This is what always puzzles me about some of your perceptions. Not caring where you live, not having a ‘sense of place’. But, you know, I’ve as well been able to ‘get any sort of music imaginable’ in the sense you seem to indicate–although recorded music is itself different from anything heard live–but that hasn’t ‘taught me I can ‘like’ almost anything with minimal effort’. Such a remark is interesting, but strange, alien. The more glut that comes my way, the LESS I am able to like of what there is within it. This is not a criticism, of course, it’s just something that I can’t imagine easily. Of course, I am much older, but I don’t think that’s all it is. But I would say that your perception, which describes a kind of flattening of ‘all that music’ if you can more or less ‘like’ all of it, certainly would NOT lead to a greater sense of freedom. Rather more a tolerance of tedium, isn’t it? and that’s a valuable technique to learn, but not for all seasons, as it were.

    ‘claimed that the Internet offers its users unprecedented possibilities for self-fashioning, by opening an ever-expanding archive of culture to sampling, editing, remixing, reproduction, etc.’

    It does offer its users unprecedented possibilities for self-fashioning, but these are not usually because of wiki and other ever-expanding archives and order forms, but rather ever-expanding internet culture, limited often to the internet, and not exactly like what you might find on it in great abundance elsewhere.

    ‘nothing is hard to find anymore, I have no excuse not to know it and have little time to develop a personal taste that is any more than irrelevant dilettantism’

    Oh, there’s much that’s hard to find, and just because I was able to find all I needed to know when I suffered poison ivy more easily, doesn’t mean I was able to find anything of any importance in terms of depth and dimension about the foliage by the ocean where I contracted the poison ivy 2 years ago. The only things I see on DVD that move well from their original homes onto the internet as youTubes are films or trash news items which aren’t supposed to be esthetic. All live performance, whether on YouTube or DVD, whether or not useful, has little texture. There is much that is hard to find, even just in the realm of strict iformation.

    ‘Though it seems nice and rational, its assumption that everything is always already translatable (that everything can potentially be ‘recombined’) inevitably leads to the romantic notion of original ideas as mysterious, uncaused, etc. Significant art — the language already sounds so outmoded — is generated through struggle with tradition or with something else, not a full shopping cart. The components have to mean something before anything besides derivatives can come from them’

    No, a ‘full shopping cart’ is just as likely to become what some kind of real art is as struggling with tradition. You can’t predict these things, some of them do happen not so much withou cause, as without knowing the exact location of the cause. But it’s somewhere, and it also could cause anything, and go through any number of unlikely ‘containers’ before revealing itself to be an agreed-upon art object. And what seem to be derivatives may emerge first as seeming to have meaning before the components you used anyway are then understood in what their meaning is. One very well doesn’t know what the end result is going to be when beginning or even in the middle. You can quite legitimately not know what you’ve made till you’ve wandered to the end of whatever it was you were following. That’s often what happens to me, although the more usual ‘starting with some kind of outline’ will happen too. Roughly, academis writing will never do this though, it always starts with an ending goal in mind, even if hasn’t fully arrived at all the details of what that ending will be just yet.

    The internet will usually offer an unlimited archive through which one can produce some kind of internet art. This is sometning I seem to be engaged in to a certain degree right now, but since it goes so against the grain of what I always do (which is to write sometimes about internet writing and/or ‘stuff thrown onto the internet’), I only do it when it is possible to keep many old pre-internet approached and techniques still intact. Such as memory, history, materiality, makind the difference between ‘sex through the internet’ and ‘sex on and in the internet’, etc. I agree it’s confusing, but now maybe you realize why I might take on some of these issues on in the book .as a means of trying to understand much of what you seem to be digging at here. But some of them are not, I think, directly art-related, like being able ‘like’ almost any music. It would seem possible that the internet itself, though, is culpable in the sense of loss of place that I think is the case with many of your generation and those coming after. I’m sure you could still find the technique to reverse this, at least for yourself. It would mean only deciding that it might be valuable, I think, and realizing that without it there really is someting like this free-floating sensation that is not freedom. And with all the different ways the word freedom is used, it’s never really convincing that one doesn’t want it, or will dutifully try to live without it.

    Just throwing out some things here, because it seems to me that you are actually questioning some of these things to the point of coming close to experiencing a sense of loss which you didn’t identify as such before. I may be just guessing, of course, and superimposing my own experience on yours, a tendency I haven’t the least difficulty falling into!

  2. […] a disdainful view of writing for the Internet (as opposed to other media). I suppose I’d take this essay more seriously is it wasn’t […]

  3. […] matter how “free” they leave the performer the destinations are destinations, and this freedom is merely ceremonial. Formal and ideological possibilities, so far from being infinite as […]

  4. traxus4420 Says:

    hi again,

    thanks, your criticisms are right on, i think. the post is an overstatement, and i don’t mean that as a justification, just an explanation — i’m not good enough to be able to do without exaggeration.

    i’m standing behind the main thrust of what i said, which is that the technology is a kind of stimulus to creativity and new or at least interesting and useful aesthetic forms, but as a challenge to existing patterns and ways of doing things, not an enhancement, and one that expands across media and is not simply a function of the technology. because the technology is also a social form.

    “Such a remark is interesting, but strange, alien”

    it’s just very easy to accept my environment as it’s sold to me, as entertainment, or rather as opportunities for entertaining myself. good/bad is secondary — just different object or genre-specific conditions under which enjoyment can be maximized. watching shit film for the purpose of mockery is an example of this.

    “Roughly, academis writing will never do this though”

    do you consider derrida or deleuze to be academic writers?

    “realizing that without it there really is someting like this free-floating sensation that is not freedom.”

    a poet/academic acquaintance of mine blogs about poetry and the internet at ‘unquiet grave’ (linked to on the sidebar). you might find some of it interesting. this is from a good recent post:

    My sense is this: a new technology does two things: 1) it introduces material, 2) it projects an idealized user. Usually, the pitch is to have both 1 and 2 appear to be indistinguishable from one another: this new technology will allow this new self. I see that as the Goldsmith et al pitch. I think the interesting work occurs when the differences and distances between 1 and 2 are explored — and I think that is where artists come in (whether the technology is film, new media, language, etc). Lots of acreage there. But these things are always in flux and the terms always reveal themselves in new ways, which is why I don’t think a simplistic prescription couched in familiar binaries–like “let go of authenticity” or “reject tradition”–is very useful or interesting right now.

    this is the earlier cleverer one.

  5. “Is there any mode of writing more constricting than Internet writing?” Not necessarily, I think. I was with you in your critique of the speaker’s notion of poetic “freedom,” but then I saw you do for the Internet a version of what the speaker was trying to do for the putatively waning art of poetry. To wit: craft a formal critique of/for “Internet writing” which would elevate its status of “complexity” — yes, that old chestnut — to that of the more established forms of writing. I would begin a longer critique of your position by homing in on the distinction you make between writing on the Internet versus Internet writing. I hear resonances of a taste machine in that very distinction.

  6. traxus4420 Says:

    there’s a material distinction between internet writing and writing put online. it’s composed in a different technical medium, addressed to different audiences, with different expectations, and mostly toward different ends.

  7. Can you be reached by email? Would you rather not be?

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