Moving Past Technological Determinism: Confessions of a Geocities Kid

Below is evidence of my dark past, a past I was hoping to black box. However, today’s readings about  the inventions of the internet and web have made me daringly nostalgic. My confession… I was a Geocities kid. Geocities was an early web-hosting service, popular amongst my personal circle to develop personal webpages. Geocities has since closed, but there are various projects aimed at archiving Geocities. I was able to locate one artifact the came from me… a very jargonic guestpage entry. Please enjoy my grammar and misuse of all caps.

Image

At the time, we would html code our own personal web sites and connect them via “web-ring” to other college-aged Geocitizens we met through Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Thus, even prior to the advent of social media platforms, I web let me achieve what we all seek as social beings –  a connection.

However, at the time I had very little understanding of the technical infrastructure that provided a new medium to express my identify. Mainstream media reported on the possibilities of the “Information Super Highway”, which I think embedded a technological deterministic view about the internet.

The Internet was going to change society.

But like my line-by-line html coding and web-ringing, my technological deterministic view has radically changed. Today’s readings, along with an Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) lens, has validated what I was experiencing back then and continue to marvel at to this day – the internet is not just a technological infrastructure marvel. It must be appreciated as a socio-technical one.

Abbate (1999) guides us through a seemingly humble recount of the origins of packet switching. In actuality, she’s describing the evolution of the internet. Abbate’s text could have been solely technical, resulting in the my own trivialization of the the internet’s history. What I truly appreciated was that Abbate illuminated the political and functional context of packet switching.

Baran’s Distributive Network design and packet switching was a result US militaristic need. Davie’s additions to Baran’s design was seen to address a UK economic and political need. Ultimately, ARPNET provide the opportunity to launch this design, paving the way for the Internet as we know it.

Not only did Abbate provide an informative historical account, but she illuminate a tangible example for ANT. Rather than describing the internet in terms of a technology that has changed society, ANT reveals that the internet’s designers were influenced by the political, economic, and scientific associations of that time.

What if there was no cold war? What if Britain had been in a better economic position?

Tracing the associations this distributive network design and packet switching as proposed by LaTour helped me appreciate the socio-cultural networks that led the internet’s technical network. Thus, limiting my technological determinist preconceptions.

Further to this, aside from the HTML programming nostalgia brought forward via Oakes interview with web-inventor Berners-Lee, this recount of the movement from web 1.0, to 2.0, and now and impending realization of web 3.0 has demonstrated how the edge of the network has molded the technology. This evolution of the web is evident of a nurture (as opposed to nature) growth of the internet – one influenced by its users. In fact, if web 3.0 is ‘us’ teaching machines, then the first thing we may have to teach them is to console technological determinist.

I marvel at how much the Internet has grown since my own initial and humble contributions. But, I’m just in awe with how it’s grown by those driving it’s use and function (like we were doing trying to do in web 1.0)…

…and maybe we can teach machines to how to decipher my ’90s Geocities lingo.

I’m JuSt gLaD I dOn’T wRiTe LiKe tHis AnYmOre. Yeeesh.

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4 thoughts on “Moving Past Technological Determinism: Confessions of a Geocities Kid

  1. This is great, Ian…I love how you brought the concept into your own life…plus, the Geocities image is awesome…thank goodness some conventions have dropped off…such as writing with mixed caps…using ellipses instead of periods…and flashing banner ads…but great post…I loved it…and I mean, I LoVeD iT!

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