Progress is a matter of the real world becoming more and more like the internet.
That has the virtue of sloganesque pithiness and the vice of being subject to obvious counterexamples. But I think it captures an important truth. Anarchism, for example, in effect calls for the open-source abundance, multiplicity of choice, and non-hierachical flatness that characterise the internet to be extended to the realms of politics, economics, and law. (And 3-D printing does the same thing for production.)
At a less substantial level, this story about how customers may soon be able to determine which movies are playing at their local meatspace theatres is another example of the same phenomenon.
I worry about this image of the internet as a haven for “open-source abundance, multiplicity of choice, and non-hierachical flatness.” There’s a kind of utopianism nowadays about the internet, which makes people forget that the same kinds of factors are at work in the internet as are at work in any other medium. Accessibility is still highly dependent on resources and time. The more resources and time you have to build websites, write blogs, and so on, the more likely it is that your content will be discovered and deemed worthy of consumption – just like print media, television, and film. And, on the consumer end, the more resources you have to buy gadgets and the more free time you have to use them, the more access you have, the more savvy or fashionable a consumer you become. This is especially true when you look at the global situation – it’s a relatively elite segment of the human population that can afford to buy gadgets, that have access to the physical infrastructure needed to get access to the internet, that have the free time to consume media.
The darker side of utopianism about the internet strikes me as another variation on a certain kind of capitalist utopianism: we are more free the more we have available to consume – to put it bluntly, the more useless shit we can wile away our time with.
I see the analogy you’re working with, but I’m simply trying to strike a note of skepticism about what I think of as the internet’s undeserved reputation. Just as in the case of the capitalist ‘freedom to consume,’ I worry that what we have with the internet is a kind of ‘opiate for the masses,’ an illusion of emancipation.
I’m curious to know: who are the people who adhere to such “capitalist utopianism”? I wouldn’t know any…
This strikes me as the predominant attitude in the U.S. Of course, my attribution is not de dicto: I don’t think anyone would assent to the idea that the more commodities we have available to us, the freer we are. It just so happens that the kinds of variety in their commodities that people often hunger after is trivial variety, variety that doesn’t do much more than occupy us with insignificant improvements in our lives rather than substantial ones.
If you say you don’t know anyone like this, it surprises me. And, I think you’re mistaken: I’m often enough one of the people of whom I speak. More kinds of smart phone to choose from, enough music on my iPod to play music continuously for a year without any repeats, more models of car to choose from, 1000 channels of worthless crap on the TV: there’s a constant confusion at work in our culture – viz, that a greater variety of options = an improvement in the quality of life. This, more than the purportedly democratic operations in our government (in which the vast majority of people participate in almost not at all), is what, I think, makes Americans think they are free. Like I said, an opiate for the masses…
But the point of making more of life like the internet is precisely to extend freedom of choice to less and less trivial areas. And I think this has clearly begun to happen.
In your first post you wrote:
I asked you who the people are that hold such a view, and your reply starts with:
Which is followed by:
So how is it [we are more free the more we have available to consume] the predominant view?
But the difference in scale of resources (and of satisfying of gatekeepers) required in the internet vs. older media is colossal.
But that’s changing. Look at the cell phone industry in Somalia, for example.
But also, via the internet, freer and more easily able to coordinate mutual aid, community development, whistleblowing, hacktivism, and building the revolution. All of which seems to be happening.
You make good some good points, but a difference in scale is very often mistaken for a qualitative difference – this is why I talked about a weird utopianism attached to the internet. And, I’m skeptical that it’s really true that the scale of resources is all that different for the internet. There’s always the off-chance that interest in a blog spreads by ‘word of mouth,’ but it’s still the entities with vast resources – to develop slick, quality content, and to advertise it – that are in the best position to stimulate consumption of their content. There are many exceptions (such was the case with traditional media as well), but they are exceptions that prove the rule. There is this foolish, utopian idea floating around that the internet is ‘the people’s medium.’ And, this is good news mostly not for the people but for the giant entities that dominate the internet: e.g., the role of the internet in the Egyptian revolution, overblown especially by western media, was a great PR victory for Facebook.
A difference in scale often makes a qualitative difference. I think Engels was right about that.
I can’t see that it’s foolish; to me it seems confirmed by my daily experience.
I go by the experience of the entities I’m involved with, such as C4SS, that are achieving worldwide media penetration on a shoestring budget. We’ve been getting 5-7 new op-eds published in decent-circulation newspapers around the world every week; that would have been impossible before the internet. The extent to which the power of outfits like C4SS has been magnified by the power of the internet is vastly greater than the extent to which the (already enormous, pre-internet) power of the corporate elite has been magnified by it.
“Progress is a matter of the real world becoming more and more like the internet.”
That progressivism is a rejection of reality and the embrace of fantasy could hardly be stated more succintly.
So do you deny that reality is becoming more like the internet?
Or do you acknowledge that, but deny that it’s good?
And what do you mean by “progressivism”? Presumably more than the mere belief that some sort of progress is possible and/or desirable (since I would bet you believe that too), but what? I assume you’re not talking about progressivism of either the Herbert Croly or the Daily Kos variety.