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'Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art'

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New book explores cultural evolution by way of the internet

In a world increasingly driven by rapid advancement in technological capabilities, it can be a little weird to exist as one of those people who, by accident of birth, straddles the line between those largely disconnected from the internet world and those who have no concept of a world without it.

It's that perspective an understanding of both sides of the digital divide that makes the ideas addressed in Virginia Heffernan's 'Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art' (Simon & Schuster, $26) so fascinating. That isn't to say that those on either end won't also be enthralled, but gap-bridgers will likely find it especially engaging.

Basically, Heffernan is laying out the aesthetic philosophies inherent to the internet. No big deal. Her thesis is a fairly simple one: that the internet the whole massive, sprawling, vast and varied construct is a work of art. One of the greatest ever achieved by mankind, in fact.

What was once a simple extension of traditional media has evolved into something far greater than the sum of its parts. It is its own world in every sense of the word, a place filled with good citizens and bad, people devoted to building society up and those devoted to tearing it down. The internet is a realm that manages to be both macro- and microcosm.

But above all else, it is an idea an idea in whose construction we all, to some extent or another, have collaborated.

However, while there's no avoiding the internet's presence, what that presence actually means is much more difficult to articulate. It seems almost mad to say this considering its ubiquity, but we've only just begun to tap the possibly-limitless cultural potential of the internet. We've seen the zeitgeist-shifting influence the internet has had on society at large in what amounts to a single generation; considering the exponential growth of tech and our increasing reliance on connectivity, we can likely expect undreamed-of changes over the course of the years to come.

The experience of being human has irrevocably changed thanks to the internet. The way we experience our reality is nothing like the way we did five years ago; compared to the social and communication dynamics of 20 years ago, it starting to edge into the realm of the unrecognizable. You might view that change as good or bad, but at this point, we can all agree that it is inevitable.

What Heffernan offers with 'Magic and Loss' is hard to describe call it an artistic analysis of the internet. It's a look at how the rapidly-changing parameters of online existence affect us and the way we look at the world. Whether she is exploring the comforting repetition of mobile gaming or fundamental alterations of what it means to read, Heffernan takes a compelling look at what it means to be a part of such an immense and collaborative undertaking.

Cultural criticism presents some interesting obstacles. Personal connection is key that's what really informs meaningful insight but venture too far in that direction and you'll wind up with a slog of self-involved navel-gazing. However, if you fail to create that connection, the work will ultimately feel shallow and detached. It's a fine line.

'Magic and Loss' is the sort of book in which it would seem nigh-impossible to strike that balance. The truth of the internet is that it is undeniable in its omnipresence one could argue that in this day and age, any connection at all is by definition too personal, with all of the self-curation we can do.

Heffernan argues quite effectively that rather than the ego-stroking time-waster it stands accused of being by so many critics, the internet is actually more than just a technological development. It is a societal development, the sort of great leap forward that defines an era in the eyes of history.

'Magic and Loss' offers both intellectual insight and entertaining reading a look at how it defines all of our lives interspersed with a look how it defines one life in particular.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 June 2016 13:53


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