When the Internet was first available as a commercial product, it seemed like an oddity, something limited to few games, chat rooms, and news. In 1990s media, the web was depicted infrequently, and when it was, it was depicted as a novelty (hold on, I’m going to look that up on the web!) or as the entire central premise of the work (think You’ve Got Mail). But as the web has grown more powerful, it goes without saying — in fact, it’s an understatement — that it has become more integrated into our lives. (You read Yester every day, right?)
This is often the case with technology. If you read through narratives of the ’20s and ’30s, you will notice that cars are frequently absent or at least come to represent wealth and power (consider The Great Gatsby). However, once cars became fully integrated by the GI experience in World War II and the creation the interstate highway system, the whole culture reverberated with this change. Could you imagine the suburbia, mall culture, or even Woodstock without car culture?
Similarly, we no longer “see” the Internet. It no longer stands out as that new place or thing. The release of The Matrix in 1999 and the first Apple iPod in 2001 – the millennium, in general – might point to a specific time in which the possibilities of the Internet expanded and suddenly contracted in social consciousness. Just as people dreamed of mile-high skyways and rocketing to new worlds after the postwar car boom, The Matrix, aside from its then-stunning visual effects, gave a dystopian yet cool way of imagining a fully-wired Internet experience. As science fiction of the ’50s was shown primarily on television — another new consumer technology — the excitement of an integrated Internet world was most easily accessed during this period in video games, most symptomatically in World of Warcraft. (Ironically, The Matrix Online utterly failed, most certainly for its flatness in comparison to the film.)
But the realities of technology – that they become a part of our daily experience – would soon set in. Unlike in The Matrix, the anonymity of the Internet slowly shrank to a zero-point. Where the movie shows a world of aliases (Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, and the gang) our Facebook-world is not only honest, it’s embarrassingly banal. Where the film depicted a world of undercover leather bars that exuded danger, we experience the Internet in well-lit cafes where we socialize in oddly quiet tones.
One may find my response to the now-common web as underwhelmed. This is not the case. I believe that technology – and the unending excitement about it – cannot help but to settle into integrated parts. It must become banal. Consider how many complain that phones hamper honest communication — Louis C.K. even has a viral bit about it — but if we think back, the Sony Discman created the same fear. Before that, the radio, television, books, and newspaper resided in the same place that smartphones now hold. To complain about technology reveals its place as an everyday shared experience. We all complain about smart phones because we all have one. After all, can one imagine an interwar Hemingway or Fitzgerald novel where they complained about traffic?