A while ago I got a bit obsessed about what the human benefit might be of the effect that technology was having on representation and meaning in society. ‘Cheap, easy, global media’ has is no longer a theory in a university library. It’s the reality we get every day. So, once we’re past this, what do we actually want the world to be like?
I guess the key point is that no discussion about the effect of the internet on our lives has ever really seemed that interesting or relevant. Yes, it empowers certain groups, and yes, it would appear to hack away at what Godin calls the ‘TV industrial complex’, but the overall goals of our society seem somehow irrelevant to all this, and vice-versa.
So all this technology has given us a means to achieve something dramatic. Now all we need is something dramatic to achieve. Killing marketing might be fun (and is another good example of a suprising, latent socialism in our supposedly capitalist society), but it doesn’t exactly feel like a unifying goal.
We see the same ambiguity in the ‘progress’ of today’s globally-interconnected banks (can anyone remind me why that was a good idea?), and across many ways in which our lifestyles have changed.
Isn’t e-commerce marvellous? Well is it? We seem to have sucked half the fun out of shopping at the same time as we were hoovering out a quarter of the inconvenience. And isn’t search wonderful? Well Google may have revolutionised the world’s information, but it has also invented a complex game of bait and switch for these increasingly soon to be redundent marketers to play, as they build whole web eddifices for non-human audiences.
What about media? Now every halfwit in the world (including me) can have their say on every issue and only the afforemention bait-and-switch people get to decide what floats to the top (using an algorithm not a person). Isn’t that brilliant? Isn’t it?
And isn’t it super what Barack Obama has done with the internet as a political tool? Well, yep, again it’s difficult to argue with all this if you’re an Obama supporter (as I am), but alongside all of the engagement we’ve seen, Obama has also raised frankly obscene amounts of money in a system which will allow him to massively over-match his opponent’s media spend. Is that a good thing? Many of us in Europe will cheer an Obama landslide if it happenss but if McCain had been the one to make the internet work for his campaign, how many of us would be claiming foul play, the insidious re-enforcement of a technology gap, and question about free speech and fairness.
So, every once in a while, perhaps we should stand back a bit, attempt to stop being dazzled by the complexity and opportunity of it all, and start thinking about how we can get all of this hope pointing in the right direction.
Could we find a way to use the internet to reduce consumption, to make presidential races issue-based, to find the most powerful personal stories and share them, to praise and elevate editorial, to decouple and re-understand risk in our banking systems, to redefine search so that it can’t be gamed, to find a way that groups can bridge differences not concentrate around similarities, or to find ways that our governments can engage more interestingly with their electorate?
Most importantly, surely we can we use this vast network of devices to make sure no one votes for Sarah Palin?