copper, acetate, paper, 2018
The mind of every human is a goldmine of data. Our interactions with and interpretations of one another, ourselves, animals – ultimately, our interactions with the entire universe – are simultaneously inputting and outputting data into the environment. This data has been utilized by individuals and societies across the globe and throughout human history to quantify our existence and make it more efficient (Porway). Data is the foundation of every political, economic, and social institution and system because they are products of collective human desires and movement.
The internet, as we understand it today, began with a group of universities on the west coast of the United States in 1969 (Gordon). It was created with the intention of connecting those universities and eventually expanded to connecting large companies, then smaller companies, and eventually made its way into the homes of the general public (Gordon). In addition to this, the United States government created both ARPANET and NSFNET, the first networks, until 1995 (Green). From a network of just four computers, the internet has grown to reach an estimated 3.2 billion people in 2017 (International Telecommunication Union). Compounded by the onset of the industrial revolutions, the internet has become the most prolific aggregate of human data in just under fifty years.
However, simply connecting to the internet or being within the vicinity of a device that can is not the same as having the ability to navigate it. From the onset, the internet has been largely developed by and for the privileged western upper and middle classes; often white and often within an institution. This access can be limited by education. Being able to access verified information on the internet often involves having an understanding of publishing, sourcing, reliable authors. An association with a post-secondary institution also has a substantial impact on what resources can be accessed (ie. JSTOR). Other times, it could be limited by geography. If your home is on a reservation in northern Manitoba, getting a signal on your phone may be very difficult; never mind the price of data. So, yes, more people technically have access to the internet. Nonetheless, the experience of child in a middle-class suburban home with constant internet, a phone on a family data plan, and a home computer is different from that of the child in a foster home on a reservation who relies on local library computers. These two children both have access to the internet but the ways in which they navigate and benefit from it will be drastically different. Regardless of its growth, the (often white) upper and middle classes are the groups it continues to serve above all else.
The internet began as a closed information highway between post-secondary institutions, a space notorious for the exclusion of people of colour as well as its association with the internet. In fact, in 1980 the median representation of white freshman students at Ivy League schools in the United States was 83% while the same at the top liberal arts colleges was just below 90% (Ashkenas, Park, Pearce). Considering this, the structure and way in which the internet first cycled information was inherently coded for a specific group and social class of people. This foundation was further solidified when the internet began to branch outward into corporations and large businesses, another space which, in the mid-twentieth century United States, was largely underrepresented by people of colour. Again, this continued when the internet became offered to the general public but access to it required a considerable amount of excess wealth and time. In addition, it is key to note the ‘Terra nullius’ of the internet; the notion that it is an empty virtual space. Coupled with the United States government’s control of the first networks (and subsequent involvement beyond that 1995), minority groups are also justifiably skeptical of the internet.
The combination of its debut investors and potential to be settled has equated in a virtual space predominantly occupied by marketing and furthering the interests of upper-middle class westerners. Considering accessibility, social and economic capital, the underlying structure of the internet is instinctively exclusive and build to perpetuate increasingly violent cycles of growth for specific groups.
Statement on work
The access required to present this video (to copper, a projector, editing software, a phone and laptop, internet, time, professional printer, etc.) is key. This process intentionally utilized a wide range of resources in order to manifest, and almost satire, my privileged but convoluted relationship with the internet as both an Anishinaabe woman and a student at a large institution. The way the video is being presented (on your time, your personal device, can be replayed) is also important. For example; how this feeds into the life cycle of the video, how it was transmitted. The projected images are of the top eleven people who are credited in the first results when Googling “who created the internet.” This set of images is formatted to demonstrate how we both curate our own experience of the internet (ie. the way in which I chose to phrase the search, the algorithm that led to my results), but are also guided by forces beyond our control (the geographic area where I was raised, my ancestry, gender, etc.). This was furthered by filming on a personal device. The repetition, speed of the cycle, and audio are all representative of the motion sickness brought on by the internet; in its technological and geographic development into the conscious and subconscious mind. Copper wiring feeds in/bleeds out of the flimsy transparent sheet with the bewitching illustration of a crown of circuits; gathering many connections and merging them into one. In the Anishinaabe worldview, copper is well known as a powerful conductor of many energies.
Some questions to consider: is the copper drawing energy out of this device or reinforcing it? Is it powering the movement of images or is that an external, unseen force? Why is this event being documented and how long has it been happening? Will it continue? Are there others watching?