How I use the Internet

by Julia Lesage
co-editor of Jump Cut

Like many college teachers, I use the Internet to prepare materials for classes and to do research on academic topics. A wonderful resource for teachers is Blackboard, an online course format that individual teachers can use through www.blackboard.com or that a whole school can use through a campus’ adaptation of the Blackboard system. My own course materials are available at the University of Oregon Blackboard site, where visitors sign in as “guest” and use “guest” as a password. Additionally, in teaching I have students give group reports, in which one student comments on Internet sites related to the day’s topic. Most college students today and many teachers consider the Internet a primary research tool, if not their only research tool, so it is crucial that teachers incorporate this kind of research methodology and comment on how best to do it in all their classes, for freshmen through graduate students.

I also have an intellectual position that is controversial among my colleagues. Teachers have a social obligation to maintain their own personal web site and share their knowledge with the world at large. This means to me that they should put their own essays online. (Check out the Lesage website.) The search engine Google can let other teachers know if their students are plagiarizing, so the issue of whether or not others will copy one’s work is moot. And we academics rarely earn more than a thousand dollars for a book, so unless one of us is an academic superstar, that means that our only revenge for being overworked and underpaid, for having cultural capital but low wages, is to give away our work to as many people as possible. Potlatch is one good response to capitalism.

My current research is on space and place in non-fiction media, including documentary film, non-fiction television, and the Internet. An area of particular interest is travel media, especially as depicted on television and the Internet. In this regard, I am interested in web travel sites, both commercial ones such as those offered by airlines (I use United’s SilverwingsPlus that has bargain fares for those 55 and over), national tourist information sites, omnibus travel sites (the mother of which is the Lonely Planet web site), and sites tied to specific television series (currently I am following Survivor Thailand). One of my observations about this wealth of “travel” material is how closely it is tied to other television shows and advice material on the Internet about home, food, real estate, and personal comfort. Travel seems to literally be about finding or making a home away from home, and in the case of Survivor, of having squabbles with roommates very much like those on Big Brother, which which it is paired on CBS on adjoining time slots. People go to the Internet to get good plane fares, make hotel reservations, find good places to eat, and inquire about nightlife. Very little about travel media on television or on the Internet helps travelers understand and encounter the culture being visited.

Finally, I would like to say that newspapers and journals online offer an excellent way of broadening one’s perspective on international affairs. In terms of national politics, our own journalists are often tied to press briefings from the White House. Thus it is useful to look daily at Internet sites run by international journals. I find the British daily newspaper The Guardian especially insightful; its website is easy to use, complex, and offers in-depth reports on areas such as the Middle East. Just as travel at its best offers a chance to talk in face-to-face conversation with people from another culture, or subculture if one is traveling in the United States, so too reading “internationally” on the Internet is taking advantage of its greatest contribution to intellectual and political life, its instantaneous sweep across the goal. I understand that both travel and the Internet are heavily ideologically inflected and are never innocent as vehicles of intercultural communication, but at their best they offer some distance from the often univocal discourse on international issues uttered by politicians and mainstream news outlets in the United States.