Having established a working definition of spam — “the use of information technology infrastructure to exploit existing aggregations of human attention” — Brunton is realistically pessimistic about the prospects for a spam-free future. Because the very characteristics that enable spam to happen are also at the core of what makes the Internet what it is: that unique openness and ease of communication, the flexibility of open access, of anonymity and ambiguity. Lose these and you lose the essence of the Internet as we know it, and what remains is “a carefully specific theme park of a system,” a civic-minded, highly-managed proprietary space — in relative terms, a closed network.
To me a book is not just a particular file. It’s connected with personhood. Books are really, really hard to write. They represent a kind of a summit of grappling with what one really has to say. And what I’m concerned with is when Silicon Valley looks at books, they often think of them as really differently as just data points that you can mush together. They’re divorcing books from their role in personhood.
Digital pioneer and theorist Jaron Lanier fears that the Internet might be destroying not just literature, but also the middle class.
I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was eight. I started reading fan fiction because I wanted to read more about characters I already knew. Fan fiction is written by amateurs imitating their favourite writers, even if mostly to poor effect. All writers imitate other writers, but only writers of fan fiction preface their stories with warnings: ‘I own not, you sue not’ or ‘If I owned Star Wars, Jar Jar Binks wouldn’t exist.’ (Others write the theft into their titles – ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’.) I read fan fiction online in the nether regions of the web, but once you start looking you find it everywhere: Arthurian legends, fairytale adaptations, a ‘sequel’ by a different author, historical novels, RPF (Real Person Fiction). Geraldine Brooks’s March, a novel which sees the events of Little Women from the perspective of the girls’ father, and which won the Pulitzer Prize? Faaan fiction.
At the London Review of Books, the sordid confessions of an ex-fanfiction addict.
I can’t conceive of any justification for writing an 800-page book about the internet. The internet’s certainly revolutionized our lives economically, sexually, blah blah. But only real cultures deserve real monuments. Technologies do not.
Joshua Cohen, in our new interview.