Yesterday evening I spent a few constructive minutes watching people avoiding a puddle in Newcastle. It was gripping stuff. A large puddle had formed and was blocking one end of a pedestrian bridge over a dual-carriageway, and someone had set up a camera and was live-streaming the ‘event’ to, at any one time, about twenty thousand viewers, many of whom had plenty to say about how people were doing, crossing the puddle.
This is, obviously, why I love the Internet. Not because the entire world with all its minutiae is so immediately present, although also for that reason: I once spent a couple of month, on and off of course, watching the snow melt around a station high on the Hardangervidda plateau in Norway; I finally passed through the station on the Bergen-Oslo train, and was delighted to spot the CCTV camera on the side of a wall. No, I love the Internet because it amplifies the natural human tendency to cultivate a sort of absurd resistance.
What do I mean by resistance? The French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Michel de Certeau, developed a theory about how people resist various power structures – governments, town planners, employers, parents, teachers (!) – which have set up systems to control their lives, not by standing up to them directly, but by evading them: by improvising, using the structures that are handed to them in peculiar and non-standard ways. Thus people will cut corners, jump queues, look out of the window; we find endless ways, at work, to reclaim a little time for ourselves; and my students check their phones under the desk or get me talking about irrelevancies when a piece of tricky work is in the offing. It is instinctive. The external structures will not wholly contain us.
And the Internet at its best (puddle-watching) is a place where people go to cock-a-snook at whichever power structure is currently oppressing them.