The internet: site of change, or more of the same?

Last night I attended a Demos event that should have included technocrats – like Tom Watson, present – and technophobes (according to the chair James Crabtree of Prospect) but instead factions were born from it, namely technorealists and technohaters. Typical techinal debates, with their technical language. It coincided with a article by one Evgeny Morozov, Yahoo Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, who has made a name for himself worrying about how the internet, not only will not cause the big revolution people claim it will in repressive regimes such as North Korea, China and Iran (the former being an example of an authoritarian dictatorship that is not embarrassed by its modus operandi, Russia being an example of a country that is embarrassed, and thus tries to conceal, that same modus operandi) but it can be easily picked up by equally unpalatable voices – who seem to be very good at it as well, exemplifying the Muslim Brotherhood.

By not answering how the internet enacts or erupts freedom in less than liberal countries does answer a question very much discussed in the event tonight; that being whether the internet is free. Is the internet – for it not to be accepted by communist regimes in the Asian continent or in Islamofascist nations – an indicator of a free country? Well, my answer to this is that it is an idicator to a form of country, but certainly not a free one. In short, why political blogging appealed to me, was because impartiality or independence were very much the order of the day, and even if I chose to wear political colours, I could still operate with freedom. I soon realised that the political blogging hegemons were just as tied – if not more so – to the Westminster villiage – which was on the topic tonight – as either lobby journos or party activists, albeit, not in a usual way. It was said at the time of the Andy Coulson affair that lobby journalists chose to stand off a bit – until it was impossible to do so through hype – because he, being a media oik in the tory party, would have vital information that he might withhold from a blacklisted newspaper, especially given that Coulson might be in charge of what is to be distrubuted to media outlets as an incumbent with an – then (not now) – almost definite Conservative win in the next general election. Blogging was supposed to be the way out of this, but of course the spin emerging out of the blogging hegemons – notably Tories, you can guess who I mean – proved otherwise.

What political blogging proved was that, like democracy, the landscape was democratic, so individuals did not have to be – which is fine. The internet itself is a canvas that has no choice but to play host to the unpalatable, but as a consequence freedom is not what is on offer, any more than simple democracy is freedom (freedom still has to be sought after, often successfully, often not). The blogosphere, and the internet itself, is only free inasmuch as democracy is free, in that it has to allow – by definition – elements that do not have freedom as their objective. And often this is not through conscious effot. I’ve no doubt the blogging hegemons have not set out to cause harm – nor do they on any physical level – or replicate the power relations that exist in a free society – by which is always meant free, so you can operate otherwise (a good government is one which recognises where and when this element can be allowed to operate without causing damage) – but nonetheless this is the reality.

The internet may cause hope for those under dictatorships (whether rightly or wrongly), and with it being censored so much is probably testament to the fact that it replicates freedoms not bestowed parts of the world. But what must be accepted, at the same time, is that the internet replicates freedom by reformatting the power relations at play in world 1.0. Will democracy be given a boost by the internet revolution? What is the meaning of the word revolution when used in this sense, I ask. It means reformulation of the same, it means a re-format, and therefore loses its real meaning or risks obscuring its real meaning. The site of of the power relations has changed, but the internet will not cause the political process to alter – only reinforce the ongoing mode of ideology.

This conclusion should by no means should be unsettling. The internet will change the landscape, and can be altered with much the same precision as real life (that of dimantling power relations at the top), but we should not allow ourselves to be consumed by this argument that that change has already arrived.

As for which basket I will lay my eggs in? I’m somewhere between technorealist and technophile – the general consensus really. Typical.


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