In the network society, the space of flows dissolves time by disordering the sequence of events and making them simultaneous in the communication networks, thus installing society in structural ephemerality: being cancels becoming. This new hyper-being-society is extremely exciting to imagine a place where electrons and data flow freely without governance.
Despite the machine’s reputation for dumping hardware and material gizmos into our laps, the internet is the most intangible and immaterial process yet unleashed. Indeed, it is the most powerful enabler in the world. The powers of a single mind unconnected can be only slightly increased by mindful self-reflection; thinking about thoughts will only make us marginally smarter. The power of the machine’s however can be increased indefinitely by reflecting its transforming nature upon itself. New technologies constantly make it easier to invent better technologies; we can’t say the same about unconnected human brains. In this unbounded technological amplification, the immaterial organisation of the internet has now become the most dominant force on this side of the planet.
To us, the Web is a sort of shared external memory. We do not have to remember unnecessary details: dates, sums, formulas, clauses, street names, detailed definitions. It is enough for us to have an abstract, the essence that is needed to process the information and relate it to others. Should we need the details, we can look them up within seconds. Similarly, we do not have to be experts in everything, because we know where to find people who specialise in what we ourselves do not know, and whom we can trust. People who will share their expertise with us not for profit, but because of our shared belief that information exists in motion, that it wants to be free, that we all benefit from the exchange of information. Every day: studying, working, solving everyday issues, pursuing interests. We know how to compete and we like to do it, but our competition, our desire to be different, is built on knowledge, on the ability to interpret and process information, and not on monopolising it.
What we see through social media is a generation of ignorant social activists. Young men and women all too willing to care about and defend something they don’t truly understand and refuse to educate themselves further on because they assume the limited information they receive has been vetted by someone more knowledgeable than themselves which is a problem. This happens on both sides of the fence, with both conservatives and liberals.
I’ve seen arguably intelligent young men and women stand up at banquets and rallies, demanding answers about things like healthcare, DOMA, federal military actions. Asking questions about things they’ve seen on Facebook, on twitter, things that they’ve taken little to no time to research for themselves, and they look like fools. No matter their age, they paint themselves with a red mark that announces ‘I’m not mature enough to be here, to discuss these issues’.
These people get untold attention and affirmation until one person with a large enough follower count points out the flaw in their argument. Corrects the mistake, and shifts the tide. But this doesn’t fix the thousands of people who liked and reblogged the original post. The damage is done.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from working on political campaigns, very little is more damaging than an activist who argues only one side of the story without recognising the existence of the other; because your opinion, no matter how solid and seemingly factually based, is invalid the second your audience realises they know more than you.
And the result of all of this is a generation of young activists who don’t understand why they aren’t being taken seriously.
The first sign that is looked for among civilised species to determine the status of a newfound life collective. Do they war? If they war, they are almost guaranteed to be primitives. We vaugely have the technology to speak to many other planets now. As I said, the internet as you know it was only just the beginning. Once we tapped into the Universal Web, that was when things really get interesting.
It took 4,000 of what you would call years of intense focus and even more intense war to finally figure out how to decipher and eventually, after another 6,000 of your years, respond to the Universal Web. So much of the first 4,000 was spent convincing everyone on Earth that it would be worth it. Generation after generation would have to be convinced that their individual lives were worth nothing, and all that mattered was the collective achievement of tapping into the mainframe of existence.
Humanity could only evolve if it shed its ego… and man, did it ever have one hell of an ego. But in the end, I am here, telling you all of this… so it worked. But it was not easy, and it is not something you could ever hope to see in your lifetime.
But once the first communication barrier was broken down, and many progressive paradigms of understanding shattered, then re-formed from the pieces, then shattered again once the entire human species was unified, truly, collective, entirely only then did we begin to look back with some sense of longing. We envy the primitive, you see. We really do.
Because only you think of unity as a far off pipe dream… a hippy idealism that has had its chance to grip the world, and failed miserably. A dead thought, that came and went, that will never return, and will never win. You believe in the individual as still having a chance. We’re not so naive but we do envy you. Each and every one of you.
I think it’s because the Internet as we know it wasn’t pictured in cyberpunk. Everybody talked about mainframes, giant computers which controlled everything, i.e. Master Control, and technology available only to the very rich or to the very adept. Cyberspace was seen as a Virtual Reality in which we moved. But that’s not the current internet. Our Internet is filled with people communicating everything, sharing everything — a world without borders with (to a certain extent) free speech, and consumer-level electronics. We have Facebook, Twitter, Google, the iPhone. The proliferation of a people-centered network instead of just a data-centered network.
And to a certain degree, they were right. Advertising was limited to annoying banner ads, so websites were either very annoying and with very poor service, or very expensive — something only giant corporations could afford.
Back then, the networks were something pretty underground. People depended on banks for transactions, and all the information stuff was done without the consumer knowing. The consumer now knows a lot of this: You enter your bank’s website using the same software you use to see your comics and memes. The world has EMBRACED the internet, so much that the internet has become part of the world itself. There’s almost no limit between society and technology; You date people through the internet, you break up with people over the internet (“Derp is now single!”), you can do almost everything over the internet, except solving your basic biological needs: Eating, sleeping and pooping.
What changed? What made the internet what it is today? If I had to choose four factors, I’d choose Globalisation, Open Source, Moore’s Law, and Google.
I’ll start with Moore’s Law and Google.
With internet communications becoming cheaper every year, it was just matter of time before someone realised the potential of targeted advertising. That, and Google’s page rank algorithm, which was definitely a game changer. And then came Facebook and the NSA, which leads me to another factor: Globalisation.
In typical Cyberpunk movies and literature, what was the standard way of controlling the population? Television. On the other hand, Governments and corporations had spies and drones, micro machines — whatever you call it, that controlled and surveilled people’s activities. At most we had spies which pinched onto companies’ networks and intercepted e-mails. Viruses which at most destroyed an enemy’s computer. But something seemed pretty odd about cyberpunk… car chases.
Why would police have to chase a cyber criminal if they knew who he was and where he lived? They didn’t, because either he would cover his footsteps pretty well, or because it was a local crime. Remember how electronic crime laws were in their infancy in the 80's? The world just wasn’t prepared for that. But as the internet became a more common thing, laws changed. And we have the RSA, the NSA, the IFPI, basically the laws have embraced technology-even if only to fight against technology itself.
And suddenly, this becomes more important to our internet than we ever thought. Why? Because the ideal of a free society was materialised into the infrastructure of our internet — an internet based on Free Software and Free Exchange of Information — and corporations have built their money-making machines on top of that infrastructure. Of course, that couldn’t have happened without Globalisation, the lowering prices of information technology, and the easy access of information.