Time & the Internet

Some questions I’m likely unqualified to ask

1) Four Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness (via waxy)

If by some chance you haven’t seen this or don’t want to click through, this is a game you can only win if you are the only person in the world playing. You don’t have to do anything but open it, and if it runs on your computer for 4’33” while no one else anywhere opens it to play you win. 80% of the comments are to complain that this isn’t really a game: 

“Some refining time and a V2 may be more productive than trying to be the internet’s John Cale. Would love to see more strange ideas but as you try to outwierd yourself and your peers, don’t forget that people actually want to participate in the games they play.”

I think this person probably meant “the internet’s John Cage”, not Cale, though maybe not, who knows. I’m not sure how one becomes the internet’s anything. In any case, my favorite response thus far is this one here:

“It makes me feel a little bit sad.”

Because why? Because it’s lonely? Because it’s boring? Because you don’t do anything?  Shouldn’t just the possibility of the game produce an actual experience of total joy that you can, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, do something that absolutely no one is doing right now? Isn’t that actually the best idea ever? Proof of a unique experience? Natalie Portman’s approval?

2) Layer Tennis

I suppose a lot of Layer Tennis is supposed to be about design, but for me the best part of the whole thing is the idea of experiencing some of my favorite writers on the internet in something like real time:

The commentator, on the other hand, must not only familiarize him/herself with both participants, but also reply to all ten volleys immediately as they’re posted. That’s ten 3-ish-minute bursts of creativity, 1 minute of spell checking, and 11 minutes of panic attacks, plus research, translating latin, and making stuff up.”

People write and read online for a million reasons, but one obviously is the immediacy of it. In that case, though, I still don’t have an exact idea of how immediate it is: anything posted on the internet could have taken either seconds or years to write. There’s a time stamp on this post but I’ve also eaten a bowl of oatmeal and five raviolis between the time I started it and the time I wrote this sentence. 

Live blogging is the obvious exception. It also, usually, sucks. Layer Tennis is different because most of the commentators are well-known, internet-established writers, writing about immediate artistic activity. It is all kinds of interactive: the designs, the forums, the ability for the commenting to influence the art, etc. A lot of it is extremely good.  Not that all of it is of vastly high quality literary merit, but there’s good stuff there– funny, clever things. Funny, clever things I know were written in the fifteen minutes prior to me reading them, which would never be possible without a computer.

I have no desire to turn this into a post about books vs. the Kindle et al because god knows we’ve heard that before, and really I’m embarrassingly unqualified to talk about electronic literature considering the opportunities I’ve been exposed to, but experientially this is unendingly interesting. To like reading a book is a physical experience, obviously– “the physical condition of a project always tells us something of its life experience as a material object.” It’s Distorte’s experience of reading Rabbit, Run

“The book was in tatters when I began and as I progressed it came even more to pieces. It was obvious that no one would ever read this copy again. I felt like I was consuming it utterly, in the same way as in computer games, when you open a chest and a tome emerges to impart something before dissolving into sparkling dust.

The emotional response to the physical act of reading is very particular, and there is no need to rehash this when you can just go turn a page. But what about temporally? What if I’m getting a similar kind of joy from reading something I know is taking place in a period of time I have access to? Not a decade/year reference, but an actual fifteen-minute interval that I, similarly, just experienced. 

I mean look at this!

“…I’m going to hit the head.

[time passes]

OK I think I just puked up something I’m going to need later…”

Everyone who read this in real time was just there in the time it took to write “[time passes]” and reading “[time passes]” means you aren’t allowed to forget the importance of time to this current reading/writing experience, which itself is a real experience, one of time passing, which isn’t really that different from turning a page maybe? Proof of the passage of time through the experience of reading? Not only that, but proof of a shared experience of time with not only other readers but with the author himself?


So there you have it, vaguely formed thoughts on two experiences of time on the web, unique and shared. In one year I will likely be able to win Four Minutes and 33 Seconds every time I play, and this post does not mean that I will be reading your Grammy live blog. 

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