Virtually there - March 2010
There isn’t an exact date for the invention of the internet. Pointy headed boffins had been doing clever things with information transfer since the 1970s, but in my mind it all starts in 1993 when the first recognisable web browser, Mosaic, arrived on my computer. Finally we had a graphical user interface that didn’t require a PhD in Geek to operate, and the World Wide Web was accessible to everyone.
In those early days the connections were glacially slow and the content was intellectual, esoteric and idiosyncratic, but we were all so excited about it. The internet promised us a brave new world of information and education. It was going to let us surf the shiny new information superhighway, bridge the digital divide and make the world a better place. Cue cheap home PCs and broadband and 18 years on we have cute kittens and bad spelling at I Can Has Cheezburger. Susan Boyle on YouTube. Facebook. MySpace. Porn that doesn’t need a trench coat and a plain brown wrapper. Twitter and the weather forecast. It’s enough to break your heart.
But don’t despair. The internet is not all just mindless dross, vulgarity and shopping. There are some fabulous things, if you look hard enough. Like the stop motion animated video excerpt from Maurice Gee’s Going West. Commissioned by the New Zealand Book Council, this is a tour de force of paper engineering and animation art. It was released on YouTube in late November last year and in less than a month had more than half a million hits.
If the Book Council has succeeded in making you feel literary (and surely that’s a better way to spend taxpayers’ money than on the Rugby World Cup), you might want to read and comment on the Guardian’s poem of the weekor download the complete audio of Othello, with Ewan McGregor as Iago, from PlayShakespeare.com.
Obviously the bard isn’t everyone’s idea of a good read, but luckily the internet caters for all tastes and romance novel readers will be thrilled to know that Harlequinhas released 16 books free in PDF and ereader format, meaning you can download them and read them on your computer, Blackberry or iPhone. You may not want to of course, but it’s nice to know you can.
The immediacy of the internet makes it addictive for news junkies. Looking for a fix of world news with no gimmicks? BBC.comis the place. For the gimmicks, the Spectra Visual Newsreader is a better bet. For serious news with commentary: economist.com. For slightly more accessible news with commentary: salon.com. For just plain silly news: theOnion.com. News with art? The Big Pictureis a blog of the best news photography from around the world, updated daily. And art without news? Choose online tours of the USA National Gallery of Artor multimedia at the MOMA. If you want to buy art, ArtandObject.co.nzand coca.org.nzare two of the places I’d start looking.
But wait, there’s more. Great-looking sites. Great-thinking sites. Seriously weird sites. Useful sites. Perhaps you can change the world one girl at a time with girleffect.org(I’m not going to preach – you just go look at the site). Celebrate the culture of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land at 12canoes.com.au.
Read people’s secrets (really) at Post Secret. Post Secret is a place where you can anonymously send in your greatest secret and read those that others have sent. Odd, but strangely compelling. Which kind of sums up the internet.
My advice? Keep your favourites but don’t spend days and days tied to TradeMe and Bebo and Seek. Get out there in cyberspace and find those sites that are still pushing the boundaries. And, when you do find something so spectacular, so useful, so amusing or so cool that it eclipses even Susan Boyle, please do tell me.
We’d love to know which internet sites you are enjoying. Send us an email with “Internet” in the subject line to email@example.com
Story: Kim Rutter