The Internet

The Internet

by Lai Yi Ohlsen

A pencil-drawn diagram with "The Internet" at the center, and with many different themes connected to it. The main themes connected to the central Internet theme, and that have their own set of ideas or variable attached to them in turn, are: new media art; decentralized; culture; industry; "tech"; social media; "the cloud"; backbone; physical infrastructure; internet governance; academic institutions; government; defense depts; protocols; and censorship circumvention.
For a closer look, zoom in or download Lai Yi’s “the Internet” diagram.

As an artist and “technologist” working in Internet performance measurement and previously censorship circumvention, I am surrounded by many people thinking about “the Internet”. While I learn a lot from being immersed in these distinct modes of inquiry, I often feel limited by their isolated perspectives.

For example, new media artists often take a high-speed, affordable Internet connection for granted when presenting their work online. Decentralized technologies, such as blockchain, often take such access for granted as well, which has strong implications for their utopic visions—who gets to participate in these new worlds they are designing? These efforts also often assume unrestricted access to the Internet, one unfettered by censorship and Internet shutdowns, which is not the lived reality of many outside of the US. (Internet in the US is not without its own violation of rights, but I digress…) Experimental artworks and technologies often signify, to me, the privilege to experiment and demonstrate who can afford such a mode. At the same time, I think these experiments are critical to fully understanding what kind of Internet we want to exist. Those who advocate for free and open access to the Internet often gloss over what it is they are connecting people to. What does it mean to connect people to an Internet that’s current default is exploitation and surveillance? In what ways is closing the “digital divide” perpetuating inequities rather than dismantling them?

“the Internet”, the diagram/drawing shown above, was a way of me working through what “the Internet” has to do with itself. How do all these different spheres impact one another despite minimal interaction? Taking inspiration from Mark Lombardi, I have used the format of a diagram as a way to consider relationality. However, departing from Lombardi’s commitment to truth and realism, I consider this work quite speculative and biased towards my own lens as a millennial, American woman working in both technology and the arts.

The attached multi-media “reading” list includes references that that have informed the shape of my diagram. I will continue to update it as I learn more.

Lai Yi Ohlsen is referenced in How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Data, a syllabus by beck haberstroh.