- Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Culture by Aaron Tucker
The Internet, although relatively new in the grand scheme of human history, has been a focus of intense scholarly analysis and discussion since the early days of its development. The Internet has caused an unprecedented effect on society, with individual users interacting more intimately with data, networks and machines than ever before. Consequently, the age-old adage of the human as a ‘cog in the machine’ gains greater relevance as the human can be interpreted as a ‘node’ in a network. Even with the advent of ‘wireless’ technologies and the implied immateriality of the ‘invisible’ World Wide Web, the physical space the user inhabits has not been removed – instead it has been complicated in an unprecedented way. The Internet, especially the development of Web 2.0, can be described as a new dispensation in the twentieth century – one that has greatly informed the early years of the twenty-first. The Internet of today is, as Aaron Tucker defines it in Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Culture, ‘a large portion of a present-day society, a portion that is at the level of scale and density unseen at any other point in history’ (20). The Internet as a product and presentation of society consequently informs how the user is defined in relation to the technology. This fusion of technology and user forms what Tucker describes as ‘an extremely unique assemblage of other portable and intricate assemblages’ and adds that it is a ‘massively complex and ever-changing entity that oscillates between the smaller scale of the individual and the large scale of the social machines’ (20).
Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Culture interrogates an eclectic range of literary and philosophical sources in order to present a tantalizing overview of how different narrative forms have tackled one of the most revolutionary developments of the modern age: the Internet. In his presentation of this literary history, Tucker analyses both literal and metaphorical interpretations of the Internet as ‘molding’ and as ‘a reflecting set of cultural narratives’ (2). As such, Tucker’s argument surrounding the complicated symbiosis between reality and imagination in texts dealing with the Internet is crucial to cultural [End Page 407] and media studies: ‘Movies are not only future-looking, shaping forces of the Internet technologies outside them, but also reflective of their zeitgeist and the celebration or concerns surrounding the increasingly dense digital networks of their particular era’ (3). Tucker traces the evolution of the Internet and Internet user by examining ideas of networks and threats (as highlighted in The Net (Winkler US 1995)), portability (in Surrogates (Mostow US 2009)), data replacements, physical hybridisation and obsolescence, and changing conceptions of identity. Tucker ultimately seeks to question how these shifts have been received by the ‘machinic audience’ – an audience defined as ‘a group of information-consumers/producers that understand language through the lens of machines and make meaning through the portals of screens’ (25).
Tucker describes himself as a ‘robot historian’ – a term borrowed from Manuel De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991) – and finds himself tasked with exploring and examining how the Internet, and discussions surrounding the Internet, have been adopted, challenged or analysed in fiction – with sf as a chief genre of investigation. Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Culture scrutinizes how various popular narratives, from the 1950s to the present day, have helped to shape broad and general understandings of what the Internet is, how it works and how it is understood. The reach of Tucker’s work is admirable. Tucker makes contact with a vast array of thinkers including Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, N. Katherine Hayles, Ray Kurzweil and Jean-François Lyotard. The texts presented for close reading include sf favourites such as War Games (Badham US 1983), William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), The Net, The Matrix (Wachowskis US 1999) and Surrogates, but also include more diverse selections such as You’ve Got Mail (Ephron US 1998), American Pie (Weitz US 1999), Catfish (Joost...