The Information Super-Sewer

Chris Hedges @ Truthdig - The Internet has become one more tool hijacked by corporate interests to accelerate our cultural, political and economic decline. The great promise of the Internet, to open up dialogue, break down cultural barriers, promote democracy and unleash innovation and creativity, has been exposed as a scam. The Internet is dividing us into antagonistic clans, in which we chant the same slogans and hate the same enemies, while our creative work is handed for free to Web providers who use it as bait for advertising.

Jaron Lanier, the “father of virtual reality technology,” in his new book “You Are Not a Gadget,” warns us of this frightening new collectivism. He notes that the habits imposed by the Internet have reconfigured how we relate to each other. He writes that “Web 2.0,” “Open Culture,” “Free Software” and the “Long Tail” have become enablers of this new collectivism. He cites Wikipedia, which consciously erases individual voices, and Google Wave as examples of the rise of mass collective thought and mass emotions. Google Wave is a new communication platform that permits users to edit what someone else has said in a conversation when it is displayed as well as allow collaborators to watch each other as they type. Privacy, honesty and self-reflection are instantly obliterated.

I called Lanier in San Francisco. He began by saying that he was not against the Internet, but against how it has evolved. He has sounded his warning, he said, because he fears that if we fall into an economic tailspin, the Internet, like other innovative systems of mass communication in human history, could be used to exacerbate social enmity and lead to an American totalitarianism.

“The Machine Stops,” a story published by E.M. Forster in 1909, paints a futuristic world where people are mesmerized by virtual reality. In Forster’s dystopia, human beings live in isolated, tiny subterranean rooms, like hives, where they are captivated by instant messages and cinematophoes—machines that project visual images. They cut themselves off from the external world and are absorbed by a bizarre pseudo-reality of voices, sounds, evanescent images and abstract sensations that can be evoked by pressing a few buttons. The access to the world of the Machine, which has replaced the real world with a virtual world, is provided by an omniscient impersonal voice.

We are, as Forster understood, seduced and then often enslaved by technology, from the combustion engine to computers to robotics. These marvels of humankind’s ingenuity are inevitably hijacked by modern slave masters who use the newest technologies to keep us more.


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