9 quotes from Magic And Loss: The Internet As Art

Tomorrow’s guest, Virginia Heffernan, believes the internet is the greatest piece of communal art ever created. Here’s some of the passages I highlighted while reading her excellent book, Magic And Loss.


…the Internet is an extraordinarily seductive representation of the world

If it’s ever fair to say that anything has “changed everything,” it’s fair to say so about the Internet. At stake in this cultural transformation are the way we live, the way we think, the way we love, the way we talk, and even the way we fight across the globe. The Internet is entrenched. It’s time to understand it—and not as a curiosity or an entry in the annals of technology or business but as an integral part of our humanity, as the latest and most powerful extension and expression of the project of being human.

With media, books, texts, and emails on mobile devices people are never not reading. We read while we’re socializing, working, shopping, relaxing, walking, commuting, urinating. From a nation that couldn’t stop eating, we’ve become a nation that can’t stop reading.

I’m trying my hand at anthropology here: where farmers bred to produce field hands, industrial workers bred because they couldn’t help it, and Kennedy-era couples bred to goose the GNP by buying sailor suits and skis, in the Internet age we form families so we can produce, distribute, and display digital photos of ourselves.

What’s more, it had long been accepted as axiomatic that technology and pornography—from the printing press to photography, magazines, film, and videotape—always evolve in tandem. “Sometimes the erotic has been a force driving technological innovation,” John Tierney wrote in the Times in 1994. “Virtually always, from Stone Age sculpture to computer bulletin boards, it has been one of the first uses for a new medium.”

This is a serious question: Do you like your art in front of you, inside your body, or all around you? People who are drawn to plays, movies, and TV sports generally prefer to keep their diversions at some distance. These are traditional “viewers.” We sit in relative shade or even theater darkness while our entertainment is brightly lit or backlit. People who like food, perfume, and music in headphones like entertainment in their mouth, nose, and ears. They are cultural “consumers” and generally take their pleasures in low restaurant lighting. People who like architecture, video games, music in speakers, and, most recently, 3D media seek to be surrounded and included in the action. They like a diverse, changing light scheme, like those in cathedrals, theme parks, and dance clubs. In marketing lingo these people are “experiencers.”

“The truth is,” Cleary said, “virtual reality just creates a deep hunger for real-world experiences.”

I kept Wittgenstein close: “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.”

Twee or crazy as it may sound, a time or two I took a tablet of ecstasy and snuck into the computer room, fired up one of the massive terminals, and signed in to spend the night in a solo orgy of logical proofs.

You can buy Magic And Loss here.

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