Net and Imagination I

The Internet may be the most significant collective use of the imagination since humans originally invented written language. Before there was language, written or spoken, there was the need for expression of the ideas and images that came to them. Language is one response to the human need to express feelings and communicate imaginings, the Net is rapidly achieving the same significance.

Human beings have been expressing their feelings for millennia. Whether it is cave paintings and cuneiform or modern print and television, media has always been used for the expression of feelings. It is only relatively recently that the emphasis on expression has fallen to communication. Communication is a much more practical, business-like by- product of our innate need for expression. It coincides with the institutionalization of our societies, of our lives, and of our very imaginations.

Communication fits in with what I call the scientific aesthetic - which rarely claims to be anything other than sterile and without soul or emotionally bankrupt and intellectually objective. The scientific aesthetic talks about the exchange of information (communication), not the expression of images, ideas, or feelings.

Communication is the experience you have when reading a dry instruction manual. Expression is more. Rather than being arrid and ineffectual, expression is metaphorical and highly effective in displaying the depths of human reality. Language is sometimes a useful tool for poetic and imaginary expression but is now more often seen as a tool for communication.

The Net was intended to provide a more efficient communication tool than ever existed before, but it really is the expression of many imaginations. It not only amplifies a small voice, the Net permits the expression of personal and collective imaginings on a global scale. It is also altering our imagination of communications: Western fetishization of the written word will evolve into something more. The written word, as designed for mere communication, will be replaced by expressive multimedia events that move the soul and the mind.

As an imaginative invention, the Net is more than a communications tool. It is also a medium for expression. If a picture tells a thousand words, a Web site speaks volumes. Each and every Web site is an imaginative product at least insofar as someone had to imagine the site before building it. Unlike traditional TV and print media, the Net allows for more than a muted reaction to images and ideas. It offers a virtual space for response. Itís interactive character dictates that whatever someone does can be subject to immediate and comprehensive response from a pan-cultural audience.

People won't merely communicate when using the Net. They have an innate need to express themselves and feel a sense of 'delight.' Many people who build a personal Web site hope to be able to Ďspark the imaginationí of as large an audience as possible. Such people are trying to express something to the world - while other sites merely communicate. When there are literally tens of millions of sites on the Web mere communication is not enough. People by nature are interested in things that touch them and if they visit a Web site that leaves the untouched, they will be entirely unimpressed.

Even if the Net is the biggest thing since humanity entered its literate phase, it is nothing without the imagination. It is, in fact, wholly composed by imagination. It started with a few computer geeks attempting to actualize an idea, an imagination of networked communications. It has now grown to become a space for the expression of the feelings and the imaginings of people all over the world. From a small groupís collective vision of an Internet has been born a virtual world inhabited by the imaginings of millions. The Net is much more than text files and hypertext Web pages. It has become the single greatest imaginal space ever artificially devised by an ever-growing collective consciousness.

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Copyright © 1997 Marc Fonda. All Rights Reserved.
Last updated: March 5, 1997.