We blew it. The Internet, we blew it. What was once a potential power center for democracy, the rebalancing of information access, new kinds of state structures, open economic possibilities and a sight line to an egalitarian meritocracy has been co-opted into a new, hegemonic platform of exploit for the extremely wealthy. Sure, many will say that there are still means of achieving such lofty goals but it’s hard to look at all the exploits of the traditional powers of control exerting their force on net neutrality, surveillance and distributed economics to feel like we, the people, are still at the helm. In fact, it’s hard to believe that it was ever any other way. Were we duped? Was this whole public domain called the Internet ever really free? Could it be that the Internet was just a Trojan horse? A horse whose frame shone of all the unifying potential for the world? Or was it, in reality, a horse that was filled with the same ideological controls from the previous centuries dominate modernity? Did we really blow it or was it a ruse all along?
Noam Chomsky was right in that the Internet was born out of the state sector from public investment. And yes, at its core laid an ideological, technical structure that was inherently non-capitalistic. Copying was integral and scarcity was a nonissue. People and access prevailed over copyright and privatization and throughout its early years the Internet lived and breathed the air of the public domain. Its purpose: to share knowledge. But like all emergent effects of anything ‘new’ the Internet had its contingencies, dependencies and would always be subjected to the whims of its broader context. This context is the real killer of what we believed to be true about the Internet.
The Internet was, and still is, hugely dependent on the microelectronics industry to survive and that industry needed the Internet to grow. During in its privatization in the mid 1990’s the Internet was let loose into the private domain in order for it to realize its full potential as a growth vehicle. Capital, patents and copyrights began to take precedent over people, access and copying and the result, as we all know, was the wild speculation with little material delivery. In short, all show and no go. The tech crash in the early 2000’s showed the world of capital that the Internet was not like any other territory to be conquered. The terrain was different and the land itself was not ready to be privatized. In addition, the early pirates of the Internet had hacked enough safeguards and back doors to challenge the old models. It appeared that the Trojan horse had let its soldiers out too early. The unfortunate truth was the first go round was just a test.
Fast forward a few years to today and the land of the Internet is totally privatized and controlled. The things we point to as democratic, egalitarian and free are in the hands of just a handful of people. Massive technology manufacturers control your interface, huge telecoms control your access, and enormous information technology platforms control your identity. This consortium, in effect, has left us in the hands of moneymen who dilute our senses of oppression with sweeping visions, falsified missions and enough diversions of progress to lull us into a daze of supporting a belief in a future that’s supposed to be very different from the past. Do no wrong? Yeah right. In fact, the only honest people in this new, controlled land we call our collective, digital selves is the telecommunication and entertainment industry. Their view: Fuck you and pay me. That’s my fiber and those are my movies so fuck you and pay me. But if we probe further the altruisms of the Valley they are hardly in the name of anything beyond control and capital. In most instances they’re thinly veiled attempts to recruit people towards a purpose while all the while employing massive efforts in the name of users, profiles, targets and sales. It’s pure ideology. But old habits die hard. Do we really think that Amazon’s labor practices are an anomaly or are they just the continued progression of the dismantling of the labor movement even further? Are things really changing that much?
As much respect as I have for Steven Kotler Abundance is a pipe dream, an ideological cocktail of sedation. And sure, scarcity is still an issue but it’s becoming less and less relevant as the TPP comes online and anonymity goes away. Yes there is hope through encryption and leaks but what I’m trying to draw attention to is that being on the Internet and pretending like your start up is going to change the world is the wrong fight. That Trojan horse you’re trying to ride is a myth that’s long been emptied of the people that now own your house, road and app platform you now depend on.
We were duped in believing that the Internet was something different. Hope and Change were slogans not only of the current President but of the Internet as well. But just like the current president the prevailing ideological context, while flawed enough for us to believe in something’s potential, was too strong for any real change to follow through. But the fight is not done and nor are we who believed in the power of the Internet. Our fight has once again returned to the hearts and minds of people around the world. Our commons is now partially connected and is still subjected to populous waves. Our virtual roads, house, parks and cars may be totally privatized but what we do in those places is what can take the power back. It’s time to take our thirst for that Hope and Change and channel it into dismantling that horse from the inside.
Photo from: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/1morefilmblog/troy-petersen-2004-10-years-later-part-ii/