Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii

Sr. Editor

This Nam June Paik sculpture reminds me of when people were freaking out about Y2K. Remember Y2K?

It seems so silly now, but I love the way the internet is depicted in visual culture from the 1990s. The flashing neon lights and green Matrix code conveys a colorful optimism to the futuristic uses of technology, while Hollywood movie plots so often center around a deep anxiety about virtual reality and its effect on human connections.

This seems to be exactly the gist of Electronic Superhighway by Paik. Born in Korea, this American transplant has a unique perspective on the States.  A vast landmass compared to his home country, the USA’s size alone means different, often clashing cultures of individual states. I mean just look at our political system! Betches can't agree on anything. But what used to connect these disparate regions were the interstate highways, which were novel to Paik when he arrived to our confused corner of the globe.

Of course, now you can get a glimpse of global culture (OK, and lots of porn) at the click of a button.  Paik is actually credited with coining the term “Electronic Superhighway” and this massive techno-sculpture shows just why Paik is considered a pioneer of video art.  A huge map of the US, the piece emits flashing images of the Wizard of Oz and television advertisements in order to encapsulate how the culture of television once shaped our nation.  In 1995, it must have seemed that the internet was going to blow TV right out of the water in terms of amalgamating American culture (OK, and porn). And in some ways, the ease of access to information has leveled the playing field.

But what’s really wonderful is how Nam June Paik predicted that the sheer amount of data on the web actually mimics the melting pot of our multi-cultural, regional country. Like his sculpture, the internet is lots of lights and sounds and images and references coming at you simultaneously, not an all-encompassing influence that makes us identical.  It confirms our differences just as much as it reaffirms our similarities. (So many different kinds of porn!)

Works like this make me wonder how our perception of the internet will continue to grow and change, and how 18 years from now we may look back on contemporary works of art and say, “Hey, they kind of got it right.”