What the Internet looks like

Gallery Interweb is a collection of “artistic renderings of the Internet,” from film clips to prose. (Thanks to Robin Sloan and Snarkmarket.)

Take, for instance, these campy clips from two 1995 movies, Hackers and Johnny Mnemonic:

Among the still images I gleaned this 2007 map of the Internet, published in Technology Review. It shows a heavily interconnected core and a “mantle-like fringe” of isolated nodes that depend directly on the core for access.

Detail of a map of the Internet. (Credit: Lanet-vi program of I. Alvarez-Hamelin et al.)

Putting it in words

Futurists have trouble admitting it, but the Internet is for most users a text-oriented medium, and it looks like it will remain that way. That’s one reason I favor written descriptions of the Internet as the most valuable.

Gallery Interweb contains a few examples. A recent article in The Baffler offers jaded imagery of the ’Net as “hulking factories … sprawl­ing, like dozens of Cost­cos smashed together, stacked with metal and diesel gen­er­a­tors and pow­er­ful cool­ing sys­tems, crossed by power lines that deliver 2 per­cent of the world’s energy to the so-called cloud….”

Robin Sloan is having none of that. She writes:

I think the inter­net is the screens. With­out the screens, who cares? With­out the screens, it’s just a bunch of derivative-trading-bots talk­ing to each other. The screens make it interesting—they’re the magic por­tals, the magic mir­rors. My visu­al­iza­tion of the inter­net ignores the server-farms and the net­work spaghetti. Instead it’s a mosaic of all those screens, some on phones and some on laps and some on walls, but more and more of them over time, all get­ting big­ger and brighter.

My only cavil is that, as the Internet turns more mobile, the screens are getting smaller and more sensitive to ambient light — hence dimmer.

When it comes to using the Internet for research, I’ve always remembered Steve Champeon’s remark, from a 2000 Webmonkey article that’s no longer available online.

The Web is one big library, albeit a library with 1,500 different card catalogs, annoying men in loud suits carrying advertisements up and down the stacks, and the occasional strobe light in the rare materials section. But it’s still a big library, make no mistake about it.

Card catalogs. Remember those?

The noises and strobe lights have toned down since 2000, when advertisers were still desperately seeking to make web pages host intrusive TV-style commercials. When Google finally cracked the puzzle of online advertising, it was by selling something appropriate to the context: targeted text ads. The Web, which takes in most of the interactive Internet, is a written language medium.

Future topic: What the Internet sounds like.

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