News is spreading about a protest by leading websites that plan to shut down in response to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Hundreds, maybe thousands are following suit. This will not be one of them.
Many suffer the delusion that the internet is or can be a wonderland for democratic activity.
I say this is delusional because it neglects practical and technical aspects of the internet. In practice, the internet is a source of cognitive strain and disengagement from political life. To punctuate the latter point, consider that adult websites receive 10,000 times the traffic of political websites (see The Myth of Digital Democracy). Technically, the internet depends upon highly centralized protocols that allow for controls like SOPA to function in the first place. I have read expressions of the idea that SOPA is antithetical to the principles embedded in the internet (one of the better examples is from Cory Doctorow) and this legislation will effectively “break the internet.” This is pure fantasy, a fool’s paradise. It might be antithetical to this fool’s paradise, but not to the internet’s technical and socio-political realities. Continue reading →
“the wealth of networks is just as concentrated as financial wealth.”
Techno-utopianism has a history that extends beyond the widespread use of the personal computer. The champions of the PC itself have a past that extend into the 1960s counterculture. In this blog, I examine the relationship of the Whole Earth Network to the techno-utopianism of today.
The Whole Earth Network emerged not only out of 1960s counterculture, but also out of new modes of work and organization that emerged during and after WWII. These modes stressed collaboration, flexibility, and, at times, decentralization. “[M]embers of the Whole Earth network helped reverse the political valence of information and information technology and turn computes into emblems of countercultural revolution,” writes Turner. “At the same time, however, they legitimated a metamorphosis within – and a widespread diffusion of – the core cultural styles of military-industrial-academic technocracy that their generation had sought to undermine” (2006, p. 238). This network, which Turner refers to as the New Communalists,” began with “the bohemian artists of cold war Manhattan and San Francisco, and later the hippies of Haight-Ashbury and the youthful back-to-the-landers,” which later in the 1980s and 1990s became the pioneers of internet culture. Contrary to the New Left, the New Communalists “in fact embraced technocentric optimism, the information theories, and the collaborative work style of the research world” (p. 240). Continue reading →
When Kirkpatrick Sale was finishing up Rebels Against the Future, he was interviewed by Kevin Kelly for Wired. This interview, however, became more of a debate, between a technophile and someone urging caution and limits with regard to technology – a neo-Luddite.
Kelly begins by wondering whether the Luddites accomplished anything “other than arson and a lot of vandalism.” Perhaps a brief history is in order for some of my more casual readers. Even Kelly doesn’t seem to understand the Luddites, as he claims:
The Luddite cottagers thought it was inhuman to be put out of work by machines. But what’s really inhuman is to have cloth made by human labor at all. Cloth should be made by machines, because machines make much better cloth than humans. Making cloth is not a good job for humans… Continue reading →
I’ve been intensively studying the literature on how technology changes society. My focus has been on technologies much more simple and less ubiquitous than current communications and information technologies. This is primarily to understand technological change in its essence. Lately I’ve read a few things that have inspired some thoughts that I’d like to share.
The first came when reading a colleagues paper that cited John Suler’s studies on what he calls “the Online Disinhibition Effect.”
The Online Disinhibition Effect displays in the following ways: