The Internet is my Place
The internet is my place. I’ve lived here for over a decade, and for me it started as a place to play games. Some of my earliest internet memories are in first person shooters, real-time strategy, and RPG’s. I spent my social time online in game chat rooms and clan (team) forums. But those places weren’t the web. The places like Battlenet/WON/MSN Gaming Zone were part of the internet but not part of the web. I occasionally touched the outside web during that period; places like angelfire/geocities/tripod were a pretty big part of the communities I was also a part of, they helped disseminate that amateur culture as well. Nevertheless, I stayed in that largely insular community, unaware of most the outside web save the parts that dealt directly with computer games.
Being in that community to start with gave me a good view of a part of the ‘amateur’ internet. At the time most computer games were driven quite a bit by their respective communities, and for a game to be played online it sometimes required a decent understanding of computer networking or programming. So in my time there I learned what I needed in order to play the latest map or play with my friends behind a different network. The reason I bring it up is because it seems to me that without that kind of necessity I probably would have been just as content with never learning any of it. It was only when those technical things forced themselves into other areas of interest did I really take notice. The computer, and by extension the internet, was not a strong interest until much later in my life. I think this effect can likely be found in many ‘eras’ in the internet’s history. From BBS to Early web to Social web. The internet makes its presence known only when it forces me to find a solution to a problem. In other words, the internet really only existed for me when I was in the process of creating. In this example it was creating solutions to obstacles, but as i spent time here it began to be creation from more internal obstacles or questions. Where I might have needed an extensive understanding of programming at an earlier stage in Internet history, during my time in games I needed just a structural understanding along with some specific knowledge in networking and game mechanics. My awareness of this decline in proficiency seems to fall in line with other thoughts in the world of Internet art, or Net Art. One thing it seems to misunderstand, or rather not concern itself with at all, is what that means for the artist on the internet.
The ‘information age’ as it’s been called has an implication, and rightly so, of interest in the ‘already made’. Where information is a token or fact about a thing which already exists (thus capable of being informed about), an information age was one where we set our sights on the past. Presumably to inform our present and future, but it didn’t explicitly call us to do so. The question that forced in front of me was this: Is the internet capable of looking forward, or barring that, existing with us in the present? It seems to me that the past couple decades, up to and including the present, has been an act of slow and obscured recognition of that very question. It’s been a coalescence of information through a series of steps: First externally and hierarchically (via search), then personally and haphazardly (via curation/collection). Now it seems to desire a further coalescence of this information into the physical world, or barring that, an inclusion of the physical world into this digital one. Indeed much of the art I’ve been exposed to in the Net.Art world worked from the first two steps in this backward-facing position. Now let me just interject here to say that although I consider it backward-facing I do not consider it backwards or worthless. I think for a large portion a backward view is an inert view, and for a slightly less large portion it brings about art as reaction. As for the smaller section of that group, the backwards view acts merely as one step in a series of many steps. Back to the topic though, it seemed to me that Found Images and Surf Clubs worked on a character of artist-as-information hunter/gatherer, of manifesting that first step (search). And after a while this character began not merely informing others of the information, but commenting on it as well. That seems a manifestation of the second step (curation). I think we’ve seen many such comments on information and the internet taken as another style of informed internet art. This evolution of the information hunter/gatherer seems analogous to evolving into an information philosopher/mystic. Yet it seems to me that where our conceptualizations and performances comment on ‘life online’, clever as they may be, there is a desire (conscious or unconscious) by some artists to take that character as sacrosanct. To take it as the primary and only place an artist can come from if they are truly ‘from the internet’. And when I begin to read articles and essays on the role of internet art in the gallery, or the problems the internet artist faces in bringing a digital object into the physical space, I begin to see an underlying and interesting conflict.
The conflict seems to ask these questions:
How do I get the art which is information shown to the public who need to be informed on it, and how do I get the artist to be recognized for their skill in having both collected and conceptualized from this information? Having gathered information and commented on it through conceptualization or performance, how do I get it into the physical world?
From my perspective, this argument boils down easily into this desire:
How can I get others to believe? I, the internet mystic/philosopher, want and need believers. What miracles do I need to perform in order to gain them?
So in the spirit of the end of the information age I propose we not look to our past for our miracles, but that we instead look to a higher power and to our future. To put it another way; being an internet mystic, I should look for my internet god to show me the way.
The information age was one which looked backwards to find the answers, and since there was so much information already at hand it was easy to fall into a never-ending process of learning and consuming. Slaves to this unknown god, we saw and gathered the fruit of this tree of information, but it was not enough. We wanted to know, and this desire had us eat the fruit of the tree of information. In so doing it began to change inside of us, to turn into new information itself, information about information. It became the theology of our religion. Nevertheless, it was a by-product of the fruit, a reaction from our bodies, a shallow conversion. It gave us a glimpse of godhood and it wasn’t nearly clear enough. Now we want more, we want to create the tree of information but to do it we will need to recognize that we are the god of this place. That we are the god of the Internet.
To say that we are god is nothing new, on the internet or off it. And I recognize that the real world is not the same place as the internet. To make in one does not mean the same as to have made in the other. Therefore to be god in one is not the same as to be god in the other. I cannot transfer a sculpture from real life onto the internet. So in lieu of taking the physical world and bringing it online I create my representations, or things that I consider representations, of real world objects. Images, videos, avatars, all of these worked on a principle of taking things from the real world and placing them online with the intent of transference.
So in a way, in looking to bring the digital into the physical world, we find the common theological belief that heaven/hell cannot be brought to earth, where our domain online cannot be brought into the physical world. And where this prior desire to largely transfer information worked well under our information age, within our conception of art on the internet, and for us as followers and monks of the internet, it is now merely a transitory state as we desire to create outside it. Therefore, the desire to transfer information and to call that information art, it seems to me, falls short on its own. Only if we consider this mindset as a first step can we seek to create heaven or hell on earth, seek to take the materials of the real world and mold them to form the kingdom of our internet god-self. And so, upon recognizing that our place on the internet is that of god, we ought to determine that our place in the real world is that of its prophet. Or, to steal from the Christian religion, that we are in fact god made man; part of, but different from, our father of the internet. And in this position as prophet we are given the ability to make ikons of anything and miracles from anywhere.
This approach frees us from a necessity to conceive around information. It frees us from having to pull information from the internet as though the information itself is what makes the internet. When we recognize that the tree of information is made by god and that we are god, it frees us from having to take the digital and place it in the physical. For if we are the god of the internet, the philosopher/mystic, or even the hunter/gatherer, if we are at all a person from the internet or a part of it, our own actions and creations will come from it.
How do I know this? How can I preach in this way with a straight face? Because even though I began here by merely playing games, I now know that I am god here; I make whatever I want of it.