- Media Studies and the Internet
In November 1969, an SDS Sigma 7 computer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an SDS 940 computer at Stanford were connected via telephone for the first permanent host-to-host connection of ARPANET, the US Department of Defense's project to build a dispersed computer network.1 This initial connection would grow over the coming years to form the physical and logistical infrastructure of what eventually became known as the internet, encompassing technologies and technological discourses at the global level. Along the way, new communication systems, codes, and protocols were developed (and just as important, evangelized) that fundamentally recast the functions and expectations of media culture. Like almost every other endeavor in advanced societies over the past few decades, film and media studies has long relied on the internet for its basic operation, but it has yet to fully acknowledge, understand, or incorporate the internet as such into its fundamental scope. I prompted the contributors of this In Focus to use the fiftieth anniversary of ARPANET's connection to explore concepts and uses that the internet has fostered that challenge, expand, and illuminate our field in significant ways. These essays argue that the field should regard the internet not only as a conduit for audiovisual texts and their related discourses but also, regardless of its "content," as a system of technical affordances, policies, and discourses that has long shaped and will continue to shape the parameters of media and politics.
As Fred Turner has explored, the internet's initial design in its first decade or so was primarily shaped by seemingly contrasting but ultimately congruent American ideologies of technocratic Cold [End Page 134] War engineering and countercultural ideals of open communication, concepts themselves drawn from much older models of "networks," as Grant Bollmer explores in his contribution to this collection.2 These discourses fostered familiar narratives from communication history: a vast, technical deployment of industrial infrastructure and a utopian rhetoric of rapid, "limitless" communication, predominantly (though not exclusively) framed by the perspectives of educated upper-middle-class white heterosexual men. As computing became a consumer-focused business in the 1970s and 1980s, the network beckoned as a new frontier of commerce, adding then-ascendant libertarian discourses of economic expansion to the ideological mix. At the same time, although much of the initial hardware and software of the internet was developed in the United States, computing and networking technologies and cultures developed regionally as well, with European and East Asian cultures of computing and the role of public communication systems contributing substantively to the debates and development of the emerging network. Today, the network is global, with the vast majority of its users residing outside North America and Europe, and its most rapid expansion in Africa, South America, and South Asia.
This brief industrial and cultural history of the internet's half century is not dissimilar from the histories of film, radio, and television in the twentieth century. It is appropriate, then, here in the pages of JCMS, to consider this history from the perspective of film and media studies. At the same time that the internet developed as a complex global media space, the film and media studies field broadened to encompass media beyond film and television, and approaches beyond textual, ideological, and industrial analysis. The acknowledgment and growth of the "M" in the purview of this journal, society, and the field coincided with the rapid public development and scrutiny of the internet since the mid-1990s. A look back through this journal reveals this expansion, from an exclusive concern with canonical Hollywood and Western European film in the 1960s to a broad and diverse exploration of a wide array of media forms, figures, genres, eras, regions, theories, and cultures. As Janet Staiger pointed out in a 2004 In Focus essay, this expansion has actually enhanced and deepened the field's original focus on film, drawing relevant connections between film and other media, because film "as a business and an art was never isolated from the other entertainments or from the political and aesthetic expressions with which it competed."3 This broader conception of the field helped fuel the...