Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Death to the Internet! Long Live the Internet!

Net neutrality, cultural decay, the corporate web, classism, & the decline of western civilization — all in one convenient essay!

Even now it’s a struggle to clearly remember that ecstatic time of positive internet esprit de corps before money and narcissism utterly dominated the culture. Those ancient ‘90s to early oughts before endlessly aggressive advertising, encyclopedic terms of service, incessant tracking, the constant need to register everywhere, subversive clickbait, the legions of trolls, threats of doxxing, careers ended by a single tweet, and all those untiring spam bots which attempt to plague every digital inch of it.

Difficult to explain to anyone under twenty-five who did not directly witness the foundational times. Or anyone over twenty-five who did not participate. Or to anyone right now who uses only Facebook and Amazon. That lost age has become the Old West of the internet: a brief memory before once verdant lands were dominated and overrun by exploitative business interests and ignorant bumbling settlers. You can’t go back, and there’s no museum for an experience. That early culture was ineffable and fleeting. Not unlike, say: the concept of lifetime job security, which no longer even seems plausible.

Now, of course, plenty of happy and creative people still use the internet (at least, to like, buy an appliance or a book or something) but they don’t make up most of internet culture; that majority of online participation which sets the social standards, creates the original content, and is now broadly, inescapably corralled by social media. Those who spend more than 20 hours a week actively participating online (like me) who are forced into the corporate tide, or relegated to the sluggish unknown hinterlands. (...)

Need we wonder why the book “Nineteen Eighty-Four” remains so relevant? Even thirty years after Steve Jobs commemorated the futuristic date by ironically pretending to destroy the entrenched corporate power structure. The same man who turned out to be one of the most proprietary-minded technologists ever to influence popular computing culture. The person who cemented the sale of style over utility, which continues to unendingly trick people. Selling the trappings of refined taste instead of core pragmatism. Like how the classic campaign to “Think Different” fetishized intellectual and artistic rebellion in order to ironically sell a massmarket consumer product. And it worked amazingly. People have been strongly influenced to desire a unique personal experience and an individualized version of success instead of a shared communal growth. So in this fragmented and increasingly de-localized culture, everyone becomes the protagonist of their own little narcissistic adventure instead of a powerful collective assisting each other for the greater good. And because not everyone can be that one-in-billion genius, much existential disappointment has been ingrained once it was set as the highest goal.

This is advantageous to business interests because unsatisfied people are more susceptible to the sale of solutions to combat unhappiness. And this emotional and cultural development also makes it easier to dehumanize others, to be jealous of their successes, and feel left out when not receiving high accolades. Creating the much lamented vicious cycle of kindergarten graduation ceremonies and participation trophies which has wrought themost egotistical generation ever recorded. It also has an oligarchic benefit of justifying power held in the small circles of the moneyed class, because success, even if born into, is often assumed to be deserved.

So it’s no coincidence that wealthy special interests have gained massive control over democracy by incentivizing and preaching the supremacy of individual gains over communal interests. Unlike a more simplistic fascism, this grants minority power to the upperclass by motivating the populace to work hard towards individual goals and individual distractions without requiring the classic top-down crushing social conformity which is more obvious and easier to fight. Instead, the insidious dreams of grand individual success, in spite of all contrary indications, keeps everyone’s broader rewards lowered. It’s like a lottery for human desires: many pay in and get essentially nothing while a tiny few win it all so as to demonstrate it is supposedly possible. Justified elite power is the cultural root of corruption, as Thomas Jefferson ironically understood, and must be fought with repeated revolution.

We all recognize a nebulous natural cynicism these days found not only in the post-apocalyptic and zombie fictions so symbolically appealing to our collective unconscious, but also in the simple facts of a historically deadlocked legislature, a rampantly scare-mongering media, the rise once again of an excessively wealthy upperclass, and the corruption of debt-based higher learning. That last being perhaps the most intellectually disheartening, as the ivory tower repeatedly demonstrates its moral bankruptcy by a reliance on horrific levels of tuition, exploitive wasteful sporting, shoddy oversight of publishing, general lack of moral center, and a scattered vision for the future (pigeon-holed rather correctly by conservatives as often out of touch). Much could perhaps be excused by the inevitable corruption of institutionalization, but where is the forethought of previous generations? Why must we rely on impulsive social media and a polarized profit-oriented mass media for our appraisals of the future?

If Obama’s unpredictable election proved anything it’s that positive ideological movements are so frightening to the moneyed establishment they’ll foster complete obstruction to thwart even the simple belief that hope and change are actually possible. Generating cynicism aids complacency, because it’s difficult for a person dealing with all their own daily struggles to constantly study the complex system and renew the idealism required to force political change, especially during periods of nominally acceptable economic stability. Revolutions are motivated by hunger and heavy oppression, generally years after the slow and determined rise of a stratified class system (a pattern which has plagued us since the dawn of civilization).

For thirty years now capitalism’s trickle-down variant has been systematically attempting to recreate an intransigent system of wealth and privilege. Conservative propaganda has assured us that if the rich succeed, everyone benefits. But how long must this ludicrous delusion be perpetuated? Is not the entire history of civil humanity a testament to the popular misery of allowing an upper class minority to rule? This should be especially poignant in a country which was designed to break hereditary dominance and unrepresentative power. Yet here we are again, watching civilization repeat its famous pattern, locking the populace into hard work and distraction without sharing in the full rewards. America chugs along with its bread and circuses, like a late-season Happy Days episode, where the original magic is gone but the characters continue acting out a hollow version of the thing we used to love and cherish. So goes sitcoms… so goes the world wide web… so goes civilization…

The rise of an entirely corporate internet is just one more idealistic casualty of allowing the amoral dollar to inform every aspect our lives. Market efficiencies, so touted by the right, can generate competition between otherwise possible monopolies, but function best only in fields of limited and uncoordinated resources. They are not necessitated to everything, and especially something as nearly immaterial and gigantic as cyberspace, where supply and demand do not function normally; a place where capitalism has often struggled to find what it can sell. Where demand has to be generated artificially with subtle and disguised viral marketing to trick and deceive us. The newest things you didn’t know you needed but all the cool kids have. Since wealth expands to dominate all emerging cultural forms, it works to control even the nearly limitless virtual environments formed of patterned energy and communal human consciousness.

In the same manner that liberty gets subsumed for security, creativity often dies upon the altar of sales. Advertising’s goal is convincing and deceiving, not compassion. It is the art of propaganda and should constantly be doubted. Excessive needs, worries, and calamities are fostered so that new cures and products can be sold. Just as rulers create fear to limit freedom, so corporations must generate the need for increased consumption.

Cultivating social anxiety can make warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention, terrorist watchlists, illegal foreign prisons, preemptive perpetual war, pushbutton murder by drone, and being bathed in x-rays at every airport seem incrementally acceptable. If you pile on the impediments slowly, and each seems necessary at the time, they morph into those inevitable and accepted hassles of modern life. Such as how general anxiety generates the sale of status items, snake-oil cures, distracting entertainments, and self-help regimes — it’s the creep of supposed necessity. Just like websites becoming overrun with advertisements, click-bait, registering, tracking, profiling, and endless general noise. In return for which we get increasingly bland and controlled services. With all these small losses, the cultural whole is diminished.

by Nicholas Kerkhoff, Medium | Read more:
Image: uncredited