New Criticals

The internet at that point (UK, 1997) sounded like a telephone trying to communicate with itself through a metal door. Photographs took about a day to download. A selfie would have presumably taken about a week to transfer, rendering its ability to capture a moment and get an immediate reaction somewhat disappointing. Mobile phones were heavy, industrial things, as if you were working undercover as an East German spy while pretending to run a building site. I used to hate the internet, but in a qualitatively different way than I might do today: in truth, I was scared of it, and avoided using emails for the first year after encountering them, believing in some sort of theory of ‘objective chance’ instead – that all meetings would be serendipitous and meaningful, rather than pre-organised and therefore boring, man. Of course in practice, this meant I ended up hanging around the Arts Centre bar at university with exactly the same group of depressed, borderline alcoholic Philosophy graduate students every night, but at least I hadn’t organised to do that.

I had exactly the same attitude when it came to ideas – you would happen upon one, or someone would mention something and you’d be like, ‘that’s interesting’, or someone would rave about a book and you’d try to find it in the library...reading feminist texts before the internet was patchy and esoteric, and books were often read without context, especially if you grew up in an environment where feminism was rarely if ever mentioned, and you didn’t really know many ‘actual’ feminists. I remember a teacher at school lending me a copy of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch in a brown paper bag, and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth being passed around, and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation featuring somewhere, but the relation between these books, such as they are, remained obscure. What I think has changed, perhaps especially since Web 2.0 and the rise of ‘net natives’ is the familiarity with overall positions and terminology, of an understanding of both the context or arguments and their relation to everyday experience. Where once things written were understood perhaps more theoretically or hypothetically, at least outside of the movement, now the gap between claims and their impact has been reduced. Of course, this can, on the one hand lead to hasty denunciations where terms and arguments are deemed to be used harmfully, but on the other it’s clear that contemporary feminism has generated a power to conceptualise the world accessible to many more than it ever was before. ‘The movement’ itself is actually potentially much bigger, even if at present only about a 3rd of the world is online.