Internet, or the triumph of idiocracy
On the Internet, you can be anything you want.
It’s strange that so many people choose to be stupid.
Voyeurism, scatology, violence, puerile jokes, unproductive polemics: one of the most disheartening things Internet reveals is the extent of human stupidity.
However,while it is true that the Web sometimes looks like a huge psychic dump, what emerges from it perhaps lesss tupidity than fear.
As individuals, we are all faced with a number of difficult realities: the unknown, loss, death.
To protect us from this uncertainty, our first instinct is to seek the warmth offered by the group. From this point of view, the prime role of society is to provide us a stable space to appease our anxiety.
What we are searching in the contact with the others is a cure for our loneliness, our fears, our doubts. We need the recognition of others to feel ourselves exist. And since the Internet provides a social space that merges with humanity itself, it potentially gives us the most powerful recognition experience we can possibly imagine.
This is why so many people put their energy into attracting the attention of everyone and cause a positive consensus. Warhol prophesied that would come a time where everyone would be world-famous for fifteen minutes. Youtube made it real.
All you have to find is the right hook: LOLCat, diverted picture, crazy website, pioneering hashtagoffer to anyone the opportunityto initiatea fadand crystallizethecollectiveattention for afleeting momentthat willintensifythe feeling of hisown existence.
But asthe rewardisinthe headyfeeling to seethe contentone sharedapprovedby all,thisgratificationis always accompanied bythethreat oftriggeringthe “bad buzz” that can turnthe expected gratification into anightmare.
The community can then start to harass the element that challenged its unity, expressing the same level of maturity as a kindergarten where the group torments the little fellow who has the misfortune not to be like everyone.
Internet, or the triumph of collective intelligence
The internet could be a very positive step towards education, organisation and participation in a meaningful society.
You might object that the Internet has also brought many meaningful and positive things to the World. And you would be right. Since one of the main features of the Web is to be paradoxical, it turns out to be also has all contrary to what I just described.
I discovered the Internet in 1996, when only a small part of the population was connected. Every minute spent online cost money and we had to wait painfully before our 33k modems could display any image (and I not even talking about the mp3: when I downloaded Video Killed the Radio Star for the first time, it took me two hours and ninja techniques to hide the phone bill to my parents).
What motivated us then was the feeling of being pioneers discovering a new frontier where anything could be reinvented.
However, I really understood what was at stake only when I first read the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, a text written by John Perry Barlow, Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Fundation. Barlow explained in powerful words that the Internet was not just a new way to communicate, but also a new vision of humanity, freed from the burdens and absurdities of the old systems.
Another highlight was the rise of free software. At the time, the operating system market was totally dominated by Microsoft. However, within a few years, the Open Source movement has found its champion in the person of Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student who managed to develop alone a kernel operating system that became one of the main competitors of Windows. The basic lesson I learned from this story is that, like a wave correcting itself, the Internet could generate responses to any attempts to control it.
But it was only the beginning: in 2001, another extraordinary vision became a reality through the Internet.
As a philosopher, I have always believed in the idea of an open and universal knowledge championed by Diderot and d’Alembert. However, it is only with the rise of Wikipedia that I had proof that collective intelligence could be made real on a global level, even beyond open source communities that where limited to computer scientists. With Wikipedia, everyone could bring his touch to universal knowledge, enriching the global frame.
Needless to say, this wonder has only become stronger when I saw the collective intelligence begins to spread to the economy with participatory models (AirBandB, Uber …), education with MOOCs, to finance with crowdfunding and Peer2Peer Banking. Now, there is not a single week that goes by without a new idea comes shoving the old codes.
We’re still in the first minutes of the first day of the Internet revolution.
Is Internet the largest digital dustbin that has ever existed? Or is it, on the contrary, the lifeline of mankind?
The easy answer would be to say “both”. But I do not believe it is true.
Of the internet,we tendto focus onwhat frustratesus: the picky Wikipedia moderator that had the nerve to censor our brilliantaddingto an article we prepared for weeks. The betraying connection providing us 74 megabytesper second instead of the 100 promised in the TV spot. And these littlefrustrationsmake uslose sight of thedeepchangesthat newinformation technologieshave broughtinto our lives.
In the early 2000s, the Internet was seen as a huge supermarket with the rise of e-commerce. From 2005, it became a social forum with the rise of Facebook and Twitter. Depending on the angle you take, can be seen as an entertainment channel, an alternative economic model, a free media, etc.
However, what remains hidden by these paradigms is that the Internet is essentially political. It is a virtual representation of the city. A global city, we are all citizens.
However, the Web was born at a time when the stakes were not as sharp today.
Meanwhile, mankind has, for the first time in its history, crossed the threshold of non-renewal resources. Meanwhile, economic inequalities have become such that the 70 richest people own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion.
Everywhere, religious, economic and social tensions increase, threatening to drag the world into an era of conflicts worse than anything we experienced so far.
Personally, this is during the crisis of 2009 that I realized that it was pointless to expect that institutional authorities will solve these problems: the world is now controlled by the finance, and entities such as the UN are just huge bureaucracies designed to give a good conscience to governments.
The salvation will come from a collective reaction, when people will start to solve things at their own level.
In this, the Internet role is going to be binary: either the network will disappear in its current form, or it will become the means of the most radical transformation we have ever lived.
The ancient Greeks had a word to describe this: Kairos. This word means “opportunity.” This is the key moment that must be seized to swing things one way or the other. We are at a crossroads, perhaps the most crucial that we had to go through so far.
Will we seize the moment and lead the decisive tilt in the right direction?