At the Baffler blog, Jacob Silverman exposes the fallacy of the blanket term “the Internet,” especially as it’s used by lazy journalists. Silverman notes that the term frames the World Wide Web as a uniform, monolithic entity, when it is in a fact highly variegated place experienced by everyone differently:
What we call the Internet—and what web writers so lazily draw on for their work—is less a hive mind or a throng or a gathering place and more a personalized set of online maneuvers guided by algorithmic recommendations. When we look at our browser windows, we see our own particular interests, social networks, and purchasing histories scrambled up to stare back at us. But because we haven’t found a shared discourse to talk about this complex arrangement of competing influences and relationships, we reach for a term to contain it all. Enter “the Internet.”
The Internet is a linguistic trope but also an ideology and even a business plan. If your job is to create content out of (mostly) nothing, then you can always turn to something/someone that “the Internet” is mad or excited about. And you don’t have to worry about alienating readers because “the Internet” is so general, so vast and all-encompassing, that it always has room. This form of writing is widely adaptable. Now it’s common to see stories where “Facebook” or “Twitter” stands in for the Internet, offering approval or judgment on the latest viral schlock. Choose your (anec)data carefully, and Twitter can tell any story you want.
We fall back on “the Internet” because it gives us a rhetorical life raft to hang onto amidst an overwhelming tide of information or a piece of sardonic shorthand to utter with a wink and a grimace, much like “never read the comments.”
Image: Apple’s solar-powered server farm in North Carolina, USA.