Cached: Decoding the Internet in Global Popular Culture

Cached: Decoding the Internet in Global Popular Culture

Cached: Decoding the Internet in Global Popular Culture

Cached: Decoding the Internet in Global Popular Culture

Synopsis

In the 1980s and 1990s, the internet became a major player in the global economy and a revolutionary component of everyday life for much of the United States and the world. It offered users new ways to relate to one another, to share their lives, and to spend their time—shopping, working, learning, and even taking political or social action. Policymakers and news media attempted—and often struggled—to make sense of the emergence and expansion of this new technology. They imagined the internet in conflicting terms: as a toy for teenagers, a national security threat, a new democratic frontier, an information superhighway, a virtual reality, and a framework for promoting globalization and revolution.

Schulte maintains that contested concepts had material consequences and helped shape not just our sense of the internet, but the development of the technology itself. Cached focuses on how people imagine and relate to technology, delving into the political and cultural debates that produced the internet as a core technology able to revise economics, politics, and culture, as well as to alter lived experience. Schulte illustrates the conflicting and indirect ways in which culture and policy combined to produce this transformative technology.

Excerpt

Humorist Dave Barry’s burlesque Dave Barry in Cyberspace provided mid1990s Americans with a how-to manual for participating in what was rapidly becoming the new and necessary—if intimidatingly foreign—technological experience: getting online. In it, he described the internet as global public and private network run by Jason, a hormonal thirteen-year-old. After signing up for a “user-friendly interface” with a company like America Online, you could do a variety of things, like “waste time in ways that you never before dreamed possible” and communicate with “millions of people all over the entire globe…many of whom are boring and stupid.” Should you accidentally type an incorrect character, Barry warned, “You will launch U.S. nuclear missiles against Norway.” Dave Barry’s comic vision of the internet worked because it played on the different yet overlapping ways the internet was understood in the United States in the last two decades of the twentieth century. The internet was conceptualized simultaneously (and often paradoxically) as a state-sponsored war project, a toy for teenagers, an information superhighway, a virtual reality, a technology for sale and for selling, a major player in global capitalism, as well as a leading framework for comprehending both globalization and the nation’s future in it. Comprised of so many competing dreams and investments, the internet was, and continues to be, a major transforming component of life for much of the United States and, increasingly, the world.

As internet use began to skyrocket between the 1980s and 2000s, news media, popular culture, and policymakers tried to make sense of the technology. In this period it was not obvious what the internet would be or what it would mean. A number of cultural sites and entities offered different visions of the technology. These representations were by no means univocal, but instead overlapped, contradicted, competed, and dovetailed with one another, sometimes simultaneously. Ultimately, these numerous imaginings . . .

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