How Internet Folklore Works

Godlike Machines

Slenderman is a specific online legend. Beyond particular stories, there are more amorphous references to technology itself as a part of modern folklore. At a time when the Internet is nearly everywhere, it's more than a little scary to some people. The Internet seems like an omnipresent, omniscient, almost godlike entity that holds the answers to all of your questions about life.

It's no wonder that Google and its brethren take on outsize importance in our lives. The Internet provides answers to nearly every question, feeds on our privacy, rules our social lives, drives our work, offers parenting instructions and tells us how to make the best possible cup of coffee, too. It's no wonder that some people feel as though they're trapped in some digital dystopia ruled by their master, the Internet. One wonders if future civilizations will excavate our remains and speculate as to the significance of the Google logo.

Without a doubt, as they reconstruct the flecks of silicon and circuitry, they will come to see how a digitized planet spawned all manner of cultural symbols. They will realize how our society's folklore within the Internet was a living, breathing, dynamic thing. How it churned its details, not just from month to month or day to day, but from second to second.

On our contemporary Internet, old tales take on new life. New tales quickly become stale and lifeless as even newer versions go viral. And as for picking through the pieces to trace the origins of those tales? In today's unimaginably vast Internet, data is fractured and misplaced or frequently simply impossible to find.

But folklore doesn't demand rigid answers about a story's origins. All it demands is that we humans share our lives with one another. And with the Internet, we can share more about our lives and cultures than at any point so far in history.

Author's Note: How Internet Folklore Works

I remember the first time I connected to an infant version of the Internet. I used a 300-baud modem to dial up a local bulletin board system with a rudimentary chat feature and a text-based adventure game. Even as a child, I knew my life would never again be the same. The online universe connected me, a rural kid, to a vast world full of stories, fun and (sometimes) danger that transfixed my friends and me. We still played outside, swapping ridiculous kid stories and playing in the dirt, but we also connected online, developing an entirely new type of culture that mystified our parents but seemed as important to us as anything that happened IRL (in real life). Our shared folklore then wasn't just in the flesh. It was – and is -- digitized, too.

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