Joho the Blog » pragmatism

August 23, 2011

The unframed Net

It’s clear that we don’t know how to explain the Internet. Is it a medium? Is it a culture, a subworld, or a parallel world? Is it a communication system? We bounce around, and we disagree.

Nevertheless, I am not as worried about our lacking the right framing for the Net as are some of my friends and colleagues.

For one thing, the same refusal to be pinned down characterizes everything. What something _is_ depends on what we’re trying to do with it, even within a culturally/linguistically homogeneous group. You can try this exercise with anything from terrorism to television to candy bars. (To pin myself down about why I think we can’t pin things down: I am sort of a phenomenological pragmatist. I also think that everything is miscellaneous, but that’s just me.)

So, we assimilate the Internet to existing concepts. There is nothing slovenly or cowardly about this. It’s how we understand things.

So, why does the Net seem special to us? Why does it seem to bust our frames ‘n’ paradigms? After all, we could assimilate the Net into older paradigms, because it is a series of tubes, and it is a communications medium, and it is a way of delivering content. Not only could we assimilate it, there are tremendous pressures to do so.

But for pragmatic (and Pragmatic) reasons, some of us (me included) don’t want to let that happen. It would foreclose cultural and political consequences we yearn for — the “we” that has flocked to the Net and that loves it for what it is and could be. The Net busts frames because it serves our purposes to have it do so.

This is why I find myself continuing to push Internet Exceptionalism, even though it does at times make me look foolish. Internet Exceptionalism is not an irrational exuberance. It is a political position. More exactly, it is a political yearning.

That’s why I’m not much bothered by the fact that we don’t have a new frame for the Net: frames are always inadequate, and the frame-busting nature of the Net serves our purposes.

In that sense, the way to frame the Internet is to keep insisting that the Net does not fit well into the old frame. Those of us who love the Net need to keep hammering on the fact that the old frames are inadequate, that the Net is exceptional, not yet assimilated to understanding, still to be invented, open to possibility, liberating of human and social potential, a framework for hope.

Eventually we’ll have the new frame for the Internet. It will be, I will boldly predict, the Internet :) In fact, open networks already are the new frame, and are sweeping aside old ways of thinking. Everything is a network.

The Internet will transition quickly from un-frameable to becoming the new frame. Until then, we should (imo) embrace the un-frameability of the Net as its framing.

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