The Internet lacks closure, not in some cloying therapeutic sense, but literally.
At every moment a website can be surfed, linked, crawled, or refreshed by any
one (or several million) of billions of browsers. The net isn't "read" like
a book, "watched" like a movie, nor "attended" like the
theater -- it is "browsed." The word itself suggests a restless,
sideways scuttling motion, a distracted kind of snacking without end. Everything
else ends -- the book closes; the screen goes dark; the curtain falls; the orchestra
leaves the stage. But the browser never finishes its meal, never stops, and is
never sated. You only need a high-speed connection and a free evening to know
exactly the endlessness I mean. But the Internet is also a graveyard. And so, with no curtain to drop, no light
to switch off, no cover to shut, a million dead websites simply go on living,
like zombies, walking dead whose gnomic blinking java scripts and embedded video
signatures go on mimicking the appearance of life, although no life has touched
them in years. Nothing is more dead than a dead website.
The dead site scrambles time. On this site, for example, it has been October,
2007, for months, if not years, now. Recall the dizzying nausea of returning and returning
and returning to a beloved website that has recently gone cold...the fog of death
settles into the belly across smaller and smaller increments of time. First,
the passing of a week with no new content sounds an alarm; then a day of stasis
brings one's heart into one's throat; and then each hour, half-hour, ten minutes,
and so on, until the habitual pressing of the refresh button becomes at once
a serial killing and a cruel resurrection, as the motile facsimile of the dead
page is made to walk, over and over again.
The net also frustrates closure through one of its greatest features, the embedded
link. This troubling device accelerates the disturbing tendency of metaphors
to become literal. Where language has always been "linked" -- carrying
its references with it -- the net has literally linked language, exploding the
exquisite tension of the metaphor, which was the simultaneous reality and unreality
of the reference (like popping the skin of a balloon, because after all, "it
is all just air").
I'm fond of endings, in life as well as art. The lack of an ending cripples
the entire apparatus of meaning, suspending beauty, like in sex without a climax,
or love without end. Art or love gain shape and meaning for me only when they
have ended. While love's endings can be unbearable, the potency of art
is that its endings can come again and again, serially, refreshed by endless
new beginnings. The web forsakes this essential capacity. Drawn into the web's morbid shadow play, I kept glimpsing a familiar shade, something called "Matthew Stadler" that perplexed me. This "Matthew Stadler" was very unlike the person I had believed myself to be in life. Rather than fighting the appearance of this phantasm, I was drawn to contribute to it. The vertigo I feel when I witness myself online lacks any moral dimension. I don’t feel violated, or wronged. This flickering “Matthew Stadler” doesn’t look false to me, so much as foreign and strange. It clearly is not about me. So, rather than rail against the growing primacy of the shadow play, I created “Matthew Stadler’s Personal Weblog” as a way to take part in it. I devised a kind of automaton,
a machine for producing new texts without the intervening force of my tastes,
my authorship, or any real effort whatsoever.
In a nutshell, the method was as follows: Texts were solicited by posting calls
on the Amazon Mechanical Turk, a bulletin board-style site that offers menial
tasks to a large, anonymous audience of users around the world. The tasks are
very simple and can be performed quickly at the computer. For example, there
are always shapes to identify and pictures to highlight. There are simple data
entry tasks. Each one pays very little, usually pennies per task.
The site is called the "Mechanical Turk" because it is meant to adumbrate
Amazon's automated help systems with a hidden human component. The "Mechanical
Turk" known from history was a hoax, a putative mechanical automaton capable
of beating the grand masters at chess. It resembled a Turk. Inside it's
metal shell a real person hid, a talented chess player whose human intelligence
drove the actions of the mechanical device. Similarly, Amazon's "MTurk" embeds human intelligence inside their automated systems,
channeling hard-to-solve questions to the bulletin board for hidden human solutions.
Anyone can post tasks (called HITs). I regularly posted a request to "write
my personal weblog, as me" Since I paid $10/HIT, my HITs were taken
and completed swiftly, usually within an hour of posting. I would simply download
whatever the Turk sent me and post it on "My Personal Weblog." This
kept the site refreshed and living, without the burden of my authorship.
I felt that I had made an elegant engine of group subjectivity, allowing the
Internet to compose a personal weblog through a depersonalized system. It delighted
But I could not help but read the entries (a weakness, perhaps?) and often found
them dull and wanting. Most weeks I would be tempted to tart them up, to finesse
a detail here, a name there. The purity of my experiment was undermined with
every improvement I made to the texts. No longer the unauthored emanations of
a great machine, "My Personal Weblog" became as intensely authored
and imitative of a solitary person's intentions as any other site. Why
could I not stand the boredom and meaninglessness of these texts? A stronger
person would have borne the burden and soldiered on. The cost was not great.
But I began to question the rewards. "My Personal Weblog" was meant
to accelerate a nascent tendency of the web, which is to blur the precision of
authorship by building a web of feedback loops so intense and constant that "authoring" swiftly
becomes a matter of channeling 1000 other voices into a kind of ambient hum that
is the web speaking to itself. These feedback loops do not require reader comments
or email replies. Simply attending to the web, browsing it, inhabiting it, completes
the loop. The web is the internal voice that never shuts up, a set of ears that
never stops listening. The web is a kind of communal insane person who never
stops muttering to himself. I wanted to be a part of that, but I got hung up
on myself and kept interrupting the chatter. Until I develop better
skills as a listener, I am reverting back to my own authorship and bringing an end to "Matthew Stadler's Personal Weblog."