Random Early-Morning Thoughts on the Internet and Perspective

Not my official post for the week, by the way; just throwing some ideas into the void in re: interactive narrative and the internet. I wrote most of this at 6:00 this morning when it was still fresh; didn’t post it till now b/c the network was down at the office all day (damned worms).

As anyone who has ever used the Internet knows, the great boon of the Internet is also its great limitation—a plethora of perspectives. There are trillions of voices singing, each to each, but most of us aren’t interested in their songs and don’t have the time or omnipotent vision to find them in the first place.

Enter RSS, which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I think that the reasons that users go to RSS services like Google Reader have to do with creating perspective just as much as it does ease-of-use (which are probably bound tightly together anyway–need to refine later). The reader is allowed to take the parts of the internet that they want to or already do use–blogs, news feeds, and many other sources–and put them in one place, a portal that allows them to essentially create their own perspective. Thus, with portal services like iGoogle or even Raiderlink (such as it is) the reader/author function becomes blurred. If the author-function in this case is purely one of a narrator (to choose, filter, edit perspective for a reader) then with portals, RSS, and other content systems, the reader becomes a secondary author, a narrator themselves; rather than creating content, they filter and edit it–they choose what content they will see.

This is why sites like amazon.com have become so powerful/popular–they use datamining to filter the massive amounts of product out there down to just what is reasonable/probable for the reader/consumer to buy. With the addition of human perspective on that product (rating systems, customer reviews, forums, videos, and other “community” tools), amazon becomes much more than a computer shipping clerk, it becomes another mode of perspective from which we interpret the world. (Meadows notes this: “the majority of the sites that have returned revenues [since the Internet downturn of the late ’90s] have usually involved a synthesis of commerce and community” (Pause and Effect 18). This synthesis is amazon’s formula.)

One possible danger here is that the offered perspective can become too filtered–that readers who filter the Internet in these ways (or have the web filtered for them in these ways) will only see their own perspective reflected. (Not that most people don’t do that in a traditional bookstore, for example. I almost always hit one or two favorite author or genre sections, thus missing the entirety of what my local bookmegastore has to offer.) This danger–of redundant/reflective perspective–is, of course, alleviated by suggestive “you might also like…” sections. Any web portal, bookseller, or big box store worth its salt has not only impulse-shopping opportunities at the register, but also some way to get blinder-wearing consumers to see other products: products (narratives) that are–if only a little bit–outside of the reader’s normal experience.

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3 thoughts on “Random Early-Morning Thoughts on the Internet and Perspective

  1. In regard to Amazon, something I’ve encountered: An opportunity to sell copies of my Master’s Thesis on amazon for a bit of a profit.I haven’t done it, mostly because I don’t think my thesis is worth much of anything, and if someone actually wanted a copy of it, I’d just give it to them. But the idea that I could write something and get it published while circumventing the “big name publishers” is pretty interesting. Might, in some ways, avoid the narrowing of voices that you mentioned. fwiw…

  2. One other thing, I’ve been using blogs in my FYC for a while in our discussions on the “American Dream” and “American Reality.” I love the ways in which the web seems so accessible. (I understand the marxist criticisms of financial accessibility and all that…)Some of the students comment on the blogs, and the writers are typically flattered that we would study/read their blogs and that someone is actually reading their experiences.

  3. That’s actually pretty cool–I considered integrating blogging into my FYC classes this semester, but decided against it. It’s already a pilot program, so everything’s brand new, and I didn’t want to go into complete overload mode. It’s definitely cool that your students are giving and getting feedback on non-course blogs.

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