Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"I Tweet From Basement, Home of Mom": Time For A Cyberspace Manifesto 2.0?

Also posted at the World Future Society.

Given the dot.bomb, the New Economy crash, the outsourcing outrage, the digirati dump, the facebook fiasco, the various iCrap scandals it seems high time for the digi-hippies and liber-techians and other assorted Ayn Raelian types to rethink, revise, redo some of the assumptions and aspirations that lead so many of them to embrace so ecstatically not so very long ago John Perry Barlow's breathless Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. I never bought Barlow's balderdash, so I am probably not the one to propose a revised line that will be congenial to the gizmo groupies, but what I have in mind would go a little something like this:

Corporations of the Washington Consensus, you giant man-eating monster squids of outsourcing, financial fraud, war profiteering, climate change denialism, and the world ruining race to the bottom, we are writing you from Cyberspace again. Actually, I am here in my slimy sweat pants, in my parent's house, tapping arthritically at a cellphone and squinting at its postage stamp screen with a hangover and a lot on my mind.

On behalf of our hopes for some kind of future, I guess I'm asking you to think about maybe giving me a temp job without benefits or at least to lower the price of a Big Gulp and a microwave burrito until I find work or I drop dead, whichever comes first. And it would sure be great if you guys could leave people who have to work for a living alone to huddle in the dark in our scant fraught leisure time, surfing the web, putting deceptive dating profiles online, getting off on free porn, and blogging for zero comments in a torrent of maddening advertising and intrusive surveillance.

We get it that money is the only speech now and that non-rich people have to suffer so that the rich can live in walled off brass-plated McVegas enclaves among photogenic slaves. We get it that we are not welcome among you, we get it that we are to have no sovereignty where you might gather. We get it that the digital economy was mostly just a screen of technical jazz and hype behind which earth-shatteringly huge financial sector fraud went down. These days we're just looking for a place to recharge our laptop batteries and get a signal among the ruins while we watch the Greenhouse storms roll in.

Yeah, it turns out cyberspace was not really some kind of spirit realm after all but more or less a coal-fired re-branded refurbishment of the century old telegraph network but with a tee vee glued on it for us to stare at or shrunk into a radio walkie-talkie homing beacon so we can get ordered around wherever we go all hours of the day and night until we throw our internet gizmo into a landfill to poison the water table for centuries and replace it with another crappier one made by hand by wage slaves living who knows where even more miserably than we are and kinda sorta because of us.

It turns out that "Moore's Law" was a soap bubble, a skewed perspectival effect and that processors become faster only to encourage software to become slower. It turns out that "accelerating change" was just the PR face of increasing insecurity as infrastructure gets looted, enterprise gets deregulated, welfare gets dismantled, and ecosystems get polluted beyond bearing. It turns out that the Turing Test has been a century long experiment in which the attribution of intelligence to non-intelligent artifacts has resulted in artificial imbecillence among the info-fixated humans who fell for it. It turns out that our identities are bound up with our aging, vulnerable, scarred, skilled bodies after all, and that access and expression online are still stratified by race, sex, gender, morphology, money, geography, history and that denial is never some kind of triumphal overcoming. It turns out that incumbent elites were never afraid of our rising generation at all, but just saw in us the usual marks, and that the pop sci-tech journalists who fed our enthusiasm knew no better than to buy into the same line of hype we were. It turns out the Digital Age and its post-humanoid avant-garde was a conceptually confused, scientifically superficial, emotionally infantile, politically pernicious farrago of ill-digested science fiction conceits and hyperbolic corporate press releases and wooly theology and shrieking id.

Man, it's been some fun, but our revolution mostly sucked, didn't it? I guess there really is a difference between the virtual and the real. You know, like, sorry about all that.

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