[Breaker: Where might the Internet be taking us?]
The advance of the computer/electronics revolution and the Internet
can be looked at in terms of five main visions. Some of these are rather
extreme scenarios that will come to pass only if the natural defenses
of more traditional outlooks, acting in concert with representative
democracy, cease to operate. Still, they are potential hazards that
bear watching as we proceed.
Corporate Net: Huge conglomerates like Time-Warner, Disney, DreamWorks,
and Microsoft have all the resources to offer the most acclaimed kinds
of Net products. According to this view, the Internet will become another
vehicle to increase the social and cultural dominance of sports industries,
the Hollywood entertainment complex, the rock and rap music, the fashion
industry, video games, and, of course, the "pornucopia."
All this will intensify consumerism. This is likely to end up with
a world like that portrayed in Ridley Scott's haunting dark-future
film Blade Runner (loosely based on Philip K. Dick's Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), or in Anthony Burgess' A
Clockwork Orange (filmed
by Stanley Kubrick), or with the antiseptic and soulless society of
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Nerd Net: The Net does not really offer untold wealth and power to
its participants. Rather, it often proffers to technonerds, wildly
enraptured by the science fictional writings of cyberpunk guru William
Gibson, an illusion of mastery. They play in their virtual environments
and continually surf the Net in search of various kicks. The hacker
elite flexes its muscles by implanting computer viruses or breaking
into less or more important data banks. One might well ask how much
meaningful social change does this generate?
If computer users are indeed the brainless, flat-souled product of
the current-day consumption-culture and educational system, no amount
of neat software and information is going to improve them. Indeed,
only those who are real personalities -- real "persons of spirit" --
to begin with might start to have an impact. Only then might Gibson's
vision -- in terms of the critical importance of "netrunners," though
hopefully not in terms of a heavily polluted, corporation-run world
-- begin to have some substance.
Rightwing Net: According to some, the Net is teeming with all kinds
of right-wing ideas that have been suppressed in North America's public
and corporate cultures. Alternative right-wing communities and lobby
groups can form on the Net. The economic transformations engendered
by the electronic cottage are also interpreted by some as having a
conservatizing edge. People will increasingly cocoon around their family
home and not have the need to go to the big office towers downtown,
thus starving the inner cities of their last major source of tax revenue.
The final result of this intensifying disjunction may be a scenario
portrayed in such sci-fi movies as Escape from
New York (and its 1990s
sequel, Escape from Los Angeles), where the urban hell-zones are walled
off from the rest of the country.
New-Age Net: The Net is indeed central to the future. It is the place
where a new planetary consciousness is being born. Young people all
over the world are forging links that are, despite the heavy corporate
presence, independent of the transnationals. The Net will finally translate
the world-transforming ideas of the new social movements that arose
in the Sixties, into a concrete, global-wide reality. Further down
the road, there may emerge the possibility of "uploading" human
consciousness into electronic form, which some have envisioned could
be a state of a human mind totally willing its own reality. The possible
perils of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality were explored
in The Matrix film trilogy.
Fragmentation Net: The dislocations engendered
by the Internet and the electronization of the world will constitute
a profoundly trying time. Perhaps no one vision will ever triumph,
and instability will become chronic. While the Net may encourage varied,
high-level philosophical debate, it can also encourage varied kinds
of depravity. One possible outcome might be a mentality seen in the Mad
Max/Road Warrior movies — a "war of all against all."
While these scenarios are hypothetical, something along these lines
might occur if Americans and Canadians fail in upholding the corrective
functions of their respective republican and parliamentary systems.
The obsession with technology, cyberspace, and the resultant social
hyper-fragmentation could lead to the swallowing up of common public
concern by an entertainment realm of images and illusions, and by various,
ever more narrowly channeled, mutually unintelligible, micro-interests.
The result might well be a North American civilization unable to effectively
deal with the rather more concrete local and global social and environmental
questions, including serious threats from rogue regimes and groups,
increasing disparities between rich and poor, overpopulation, mass
immigration, the crisis of public and social morality, and global ecological
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Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical
researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as
in U.S. scholarly journals such as HUMANITAS, REVIEW OF METAPHYSICS,
and TELOS, and in U.S. magazines such as CHRONICLES and THE WORLD & I.
His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.
See author's bio and other articles.
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