Monday, November 14, 2016

Down the Internet Rabbit Hole

I mentioned back when I was finishing up that Inktober sketch challenge that I got sucked down a research rabbit hole while looking up some info for a little family history project. As I wrapped it up last week, I got sucked in again as I rediscovered a source for free census records and got to comparing info on them with my notes from various family members and all too limited dating and descriptions in photo albums. It's an amazing experience to rebuild someone's life from information like this, and try to imagine what some life events must have been like to live through during a different time. Here's the family member I was focusing on, my maternal grandmother's sister Gertrude and her husband Roy. While so many of the pictures from this time period of the mid to late 1920's show Gertie with no expression on her face, arms hanging at her side, this one shows a different side. I just love this jaunty pose she and Roy struck, the almost smiles hinting at a mystery they may or may not share.

I admit I spend way too much time on the internet following links and hunting down bits of information. I'd like to think it all gets tucked away in the folds of my brain for future reference, things that I don't even know will be useful to have floating around in there at some point. It helps assuage the guilt I feel when I realize I've lost an afternoon of sewing to such pursuits. That's why I sat up and took notice at Austin Kleon's Tumbler post sharing Kenneth Goldsmith's thoughts on Wasting Time On The Internet. My favorites are an observation similar to my own about people talking on bluetooth headsets ("Once, the only people who spoke to themselves were drunks; today, armies of people spout great soliloquies whilst traversing the sidewalks.") and how Twitter with its character limits affects how people write and edit, something I've experienced myself ("I often see a great deal of craft going into the composition of tweets. The constraint alone brings craft to the fore: how can I say something with such limited real estate? And then there is the game of the compositional method itself: watching the character count dwindle, then precisely editing and revising the tweet so it will fit into its allotted space. We substitute ampersands for “ands,” delete commas, double spaces, and redundant words, use hashtags, and employ URL shorteners to craft the most compressed language possible.")

Basically, he is saying it's all good, that all our reading and writing on the internet can be likened to "sampling and remixing", making connections and improving our own thinking.
The DNA of the web is embedded in 20th-century movements like Surrealism, where artists sought to live in a state like dreaming, or Pop Art, where they leveraged popular culture to make bigger points about society. Postmodernism is about sampling things and remixing them, and that is made real in this digital world.

When I teach my students about the historical preconditions for what they are doing when they waste time together — things like Surrealism or Cubism — the theoretical framework helps them know that the web isn’t a break, it’s a continuity with earlier great thinking.
And in answer to the question of what will an educated person be in the future, he responds, "We still read great books, and there is a place for great universities. But an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them." Actually, I'd say we're already there. At least, I have felt the power of the internet to track down information that previously would have meant traveling to a library or museum that held original documents or artifacts or art in their collections. Or requesting microfiche to laboriously scan through. Or searching through a library's vertical files. Some information still needs to be accessed "the old fashioned way" but with each bit of info that gets uploaded to the world wide web, the speed with which we can discover and make connections between bits of information increases, as does the breadth of our understanding of our world, what came before and what can be.

So . . . go ahead and dive down that rabbit hole! 

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