In the early 1990s, the term ‘online’ became a buzzword in advertising for supermarkets, banks and public information. Used to denote telephone-enabled services, it was symptomatic of a potential ‘cybernetic’ future that seemed to anticipate a sublime integration. Critics, though, questioned the novelty of this and drew comparisons with earlier booms that promised utopian progress; railways in the 1840s, mechanised weaponry in the 1880s, automobiles at the turn of the twentieth century, radio communications in the 1920s and transistor electronics in the 1950s.1 These historic precedents suggest a cultural amnesia preventing the realisation of how digital technology may repeat patterns of earlier hybrid paradigms. Nevertheless, as domestic computers became more affordable in the 1990s, related notions of ‘virtual reality’ and ‘cyberspace’ began appearing in cultural texts: increasing representation in films (The Lawnmower Man, 1992; The Matrix, 2001) and television texts might suggest that a ‘distinguishing birth’ was taking place. Gaudreault and Marion’s model of a ‘double birth’ for cinema (Figure 6.1) details how a new technology, emerging to complement existing practice, departs from a subordinate role and assumes the role of an increasingly autonomous proto-medium. Gaudreault and Marion’s model is based on a single practice, however, rather than on a generalised paradigm spanning a variety of contexts and functioning across digital practices.
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