Sunday, January 6, 2013

6 of 95: The radical, the political and the internet's refusal to be either

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

[Part 5]

This is true to the point of banality. And I rather suspect you've heard this point been made many a time in the last decade or two.

Has the internet been around for two decades already? Gosh. The kids today must be all confused! Not with the internet, mind (to them, it's always been around), but with the genre of internet newliness.

By this, I mean the constant fascination with all the new things one can do with the internet. It's as if some part of our culture got stuck in 1993 and the glorious amazement with this new thing that just arrived.

Now, I'm all for 1990s cyberoptimism, but it comes a point in every culture's life where things stop being new and start to have brutal political, social, cultural and economic consequences. And where the language to describe these no longer new things change in accordance to this.

So, without further ado, I'm going to manifest a statement:

The internet is as revolutionary a force for social change as the process of industrialization. And it is no longer new - it has, in fact, had over two decades of brutal, ruthless, ceaseless, overwhelming and subversive effect on the world we live in. It has ravaged, transformed, made inprofitable and in any other imaginable way made the practices that depended on a few, well ordered and well controlled monopoly medias that much harder to maintain. It has empowered people and disempowered elites, and will continue to do so until we no longer recognize the monopoly of communication we call the past.

This statement can be read in either one of two ways. It can either be read as a radical political statement amounting to a declaration of war on the old order, or as a matter of fact statement without any political underpinnings whatsoever.

The difference between these two readings is not subtle, not trivial and not hard to detect in effect.

We can restate this difference as such: either you see the internet as a threat, or as a set of useful tools for getting communication done. And it tends to be that this 'either' is very depending on your relation to the old monopolies. If you're a part of them, it's very much a threat; if you're suddenly liberated from them, it's not.

We can restate this difference again: either you think it's a good thing that humans from all over the world suddenly have access to a very large percentage of the accumulated cultural heritage of the world, or you don't.

The truly radical thing about this is that it is the "don't" position that's the radical position. The sane, rational and analytical part of the world just concludes that, yep, the internet is here, and it has been around for two decades, and the only thing that will make it not be around anymore is a major infrastructural catastrophy or an all out nuclear war. The "well, let's see what we can do with this thing now that the kids have all grown up with it" position is not radical, not political and most of all not new - it's the default mode of anyone born after the age of informational empire.

When you have to commit large acts of sabotage or bring out the nukes - that's when the word 'radical' is appropriate.

For all the rest - file sharing, community building, blogging, cryptohacking, remixing, chatting, making friends, crossing borders, expanding the cultural and social horizons of billions, enabling the emergence of new cultural forms that both includes and transcends those of the past - well. We're living in a world where that is an everyday occurrence, and in truth most of you wouldn't recognize a world where this wasn't so.

The internet is a radical transformer. But it is not radical - it is, de facto. And what we do with it is up to us. So let's make it into something epic, shall we?

I'll see you again tomorrow for part seven.

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