This 2002 article, in which Professor McPherson provides a theoretical investigation of how the internet operates in relation to the user, is interesting in terms of both its contemporary continuities and discontinuities. Thinking about it historically, it’s interesting to consider how her formulations might have changed in relation to the content she investigates—content that was a direct manifestation of televisual media conglomerates seeking to expand their content into the web. At the time of this article’s publication, the relative newness of the web allowed for a certain anticipation of its radical possibilities, and yet these possibilities were almost immediately subdued under the “industrial rhetoric of convergence,” which, as a “self-fulfilling prophecy, [obscured] larger questions about whether or not the internet [was] really (or really should be) tied to corporate traditions of U.S. television while framing the internet as essentially a commercial medium, intent on servicing consumers rather than citizens” (200). While this industrial rhetoric certainly continues today, there now exists another set of content conglomerates, which are unrelated to the traditional media giants. While these new media conglomerates (e.g. Google, Facebook) certainly exude a similar view of the web as a primarily commercial medium, and therefore still exhibit a relationship to neo-Fordist and transnational capitalism, I feel it would be worth investigating how Professor McPherson’s phenomenology of web surfing might have evolved within the landscape of web corporations not directly tied to the televisual medium.
Professor McPherson establishes three primary sensations a user experiences as they navigate the web: volitional mobility, the scan-and-search, and transformation. In her article, she discusses how they operate within the web as a whole, from MSNBC.com to chat rooms. For instance, she describes a feature on MSNBC.com that allowed one to dynamically navigate the site of JFK’s assassination, “evoking mediated memories of Camelot and a poignant affect of national loss and nostalgia” (203). These formulations describe a navigable web, in which a user may traverse a multitude of portals, even as these portals are “highly controlled,” with their “promise and feeling of choice, movement, and liveness” obscuring the user’s movements are restricted “in subtle yet limiting ways” (205). Granting this, how might we formulate the ways in which a website like Facebook enacts the same processes? Is the binary of freedom/determinism more or less visible now that the multitude of portals has been reduced to a one-stop-shop? We have the ability to curate our own content with more freedom than ever before, and yet this content is collapsed under the aesthetic and experience of a news feed—wherein the latest imperialist gaffe of Sean Spicer follows photos of your new nephew and proceeds a two-minute docu-commercial of the latest cookie dough restaurant in a city almost 3,000 miles away. What is the phenomenology of this content collapse? And ultimately, how are these notions determined by Facebook’s organization as a new type of media conglomerate, not beholden to the traditional holdings of the televisual?