Content & Communication

World Wild Web

Written by Agnes Banks
Category: Content & Communication Published: Wednesday, 24 August 2016 10:00
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From a World Wide Web to a World Wild Web? Indeed, for many of us, it seems the web has become the World Wild Web. What are the technical, economic, and human factors that have dramatically shaped the internet?

The first article of this series, Critical Turning Point in the Transfer of Knowledge, gives us time for reflection about knowledge, gatekeepers, responsibility, and liability. The second article opened the door on The Web Black Hole, inspecting the evolution of communication and knowledge in our societies. In this third article, we consider the forces impacting our digital experience on the web.

A Web of Disruption and Innovation. A simple evaluation of our communications and how we work on the web and the internet shows that we have lost track of the idea of the web as having a unifying purpose, as envisioned by its founders. Questions about why the web exists, its purpose, its role in academic research and knowledge work, the benefits it delivers to users around the world—these are questions that are rapidly disappearing from our discourse. However, these questions are receiving a resurgence of interest from digital futurists and planning groups, who have taken on the tasks to address the internet fragmentation forces. In the next article, I will investigate what it will take to reform the web, to reinvent it.

As users of the web, we need to look at the disruption, the fragmentation factors. To reinvent the web and take a part in its reforms, we must understand its beginnings, its evolution, what is at stake, and the various forces involved. Such a study will provide us with a deeper, broader view of what is at stake and suggest how we, together, can change and improve the web for all users.

Technical and Economic Factors

According to some historians and sociologists, several forces of societal fragmentation began to appear at the time when we were taking our first steps in the digital world. In the 1970s, the old post-war business model was crumbling under pressure from inflation and weakening growth, the golden age was over, companies found themselves non-competitive in an increasingly global environment, similar to the socio-economic arena of today.

Milton Friedman and his University of Chicago free-market followers argued that the overriding goal of a corporation should be to maximize profits, regardless of social effects. In the eyes of the free-market disciples, the existing model was inefficient—and unfair to shareholders. They saw the internet as offering new opportunities for growth globally. American CEOs jumped on the ship as fast as they could. Going overseas, global, meant reaching new markets and also moving away from local social responsibilities, tax obligations, and regulations. The internet provided them with the ideal infrastructure. Like so many of their ancestors, who left everything to find gold in the wild west in the 1870s, more than a hundred years later CEOs were joining the rush to the world wide web.

Globalization became the rule. Outside the U.S., globalization started to be associated with the term Americanization, a connotation that still affects the new proposed free-trade partnerships: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These trade deals are beyond the scope of this article, but, if signed, according to some, they could threaten net neutrality and citizen rights, and could come head-to-head against the decentralization project of the web.

If the infrastructure of the internet and its globalization had been planned and implemented in a steady relationship with its users, it should have led to standardization and a code of values, as standards are developed to help us communicate and trade efficiently in a balanced environment. Injecting values such as privacy, security, stability, and democratization—these are critical to the web and its infrastructure. But globalization did not bring such values and badly needed attributes.

We are, at the same time, witnesses and actors in the chaos and socio-economic fragmentation of the web. We blame it on many things: maximization of profits for shareholders, the rise of technology, globalization, the decline of unions, the rise of black markets, and we could add our laziness, laissez-faire, and so much more.

Just observing the completed radials of the web, like the radials of a cobweb, is not enough—that will not address the problems and open new opportunities. It is time to take a deep dive into the web, like studying spiders at work, as we try to understand the process of constructing the web and the internet at all levels. Compare it to visiting the backstage of the ­­Opera, where a visit to the “machinery room” can help us appreciate the forces at work. We don’t need to control the strings, but we must know how they work and interact, ask questions and listen to answers with a critical mind.

Who Owns and Controls the Web and the Internet?

Who control the web?

First, let’s discuss some fundamentals. The terms internet and World Wide Web (WWW), or simply the web, are still often used synonymously.

However, as we know, they are not the same.The web consists of pages that can be accessed using a web browser, such as Google Chrome or Firefox. The web is a collection of text documents and illustrated web pages that are rendered in a web browser as pages of multimedia content. Embedded hyperlinks enable you to navigate between web pages. Multiple web pages with a common theme, domain name, or both, constitute a website. Linked by URIs (uniform resource identifiers), resources are transported in packets on the internet. A protocol called HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is most commonly used to access web resources.

Web content can be provided by website publishers or interactively created by users who contribute content. Websites can have various purposes: information, entertainment, or largely for commercial purposes.

The internet, in contrast, is a global system of interconnected computer networks, over which the web data is disseminated. The internet (not the web) is used for email, relying on protocols such as SMTP, POP3, or IMAP.

Various applications, including Usenet newsgroups, instant messaging, and File Transfer Protocol (FTP), use the internet as the transport between sending and receiving stations. We could say that the internet is a medium like a truck, or a container ship, facilitating the transfer and circulation of web resources, which are identified by URLs and interlinked by hypertext links. This analogy hints that it also possible to build new ways to share web data and information.

The internet, as the world’s most powerful medium for information, data, communication, and commerce, makes a strong imprint on our socio-economic and cultural space. As Jeff Tyson, in “How Stuff Works. How Internet Infrastructure Works - An Illustrated Tutorial,” writes:

“One of the greatest things about the Internet is that nobody really owns it. It is a global collection of networks, both big and small. These networks connect together in many different ways to form the single entity that we know as the Internet. 

However, because of the way in which we create web pages, manage, and name them, the web is not entirely decentralized and independent, or free of control. Its dissemination is de facto “kidnapped” by circumstances, by the way in which it was developed and gives access to users around the world.

A nonprofit organization, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), controls the vast majority of domain names and administers the Domain Name System (DNS), which is under the full monitoring of the United States. The U.S., theoretically, can exclude a country or limit their web access. In a similar way, a paranoid dictator can block the internet, or portions of it, from their country…chilling thoughts for internet users across the world. On August 18, 2016, on BBC News, David Lee reports:

“The US has confirmed it is finally ready to cede power of the internet’s naming system, ending the almost 20-year process to hand over a crucial part of the internet's governance.

“It's a big change,” remarked Prof Alan Woodward from the University of Surrey.

"It marks a transition from an internet effectively governed by one nation to a multi-stakeholder governed internet: a properly global solution for what has become a global asset." Technically, the US is doing this voluntarily - if it wanted to keep power of DNS, it could. But the country has long acknowledged that relinquishing its control was a vital act of international diplomacy…”

Will it change what happens on the internet? What will be the effects on users across the world?

The internet has revolutionized the publishing, the media industries, and all industries. Anyone with an internet connection can instantly exchange ideas and opinions with a worldwide audience. However, it’s important to approach all online information with healthy skepticism, starting with the web, the internet infrastructure, and the players. The internet is a fertile ground for hoaxes. “If it’s in writing, it must be true”... sound familiar? Users of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are frequently seen to blur the truth and spread questionable information.

Louise Drulhe’s hypotheses in Critical Atlas of Internet shows us, in a symbolic way, the evolution of the internet and the players, representing and mapping the space of the internet in various graphic studies that provide a virtual and physical exploration of the internet space. Using drawings, sketches, and three-dimensional renderings, Drulhe deconstructs the issues of control on the network of networks, and demonstrates that the fact that nobody “owns” the internet does not mean it is not monitored and maintained in different ways.

Drulhe and others make several important points regarding control of the internet that have profound ramifications for users:

    • - The Internet Society, a nonprofit group that was established in 1992, oversees the formation of the policies and protocols that define how we use and interact with the internet. Source HowStuffWorks

    • - Under the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorist law of 2001, the U.S. can claim control of any American servers, even those located outside the U.S. Edward Snowden revealed to us the mass surveillance exercises by the American government, thanks to their privileged control of the internet.

    • - The American cloud spreads across the world, an extraterritorial extension of their sovereignty. This means that a country, via different forms of cooperation or associations such as server locations and network connections, can impose themselves on another country. The U.S., because of their unique position handling the management of the core of the internet, have de facto control of all of the first-layer domains, regardless where and by whom they are hosted. All .net, .com, .org and the new nTLD extensions are controlled under American laws, regardless of where the servers/data centers are operating or registered.

    • - European officials have raised concerns that the bulk collection of Europeans’ data by the U.S. and European intelligence agencies failed to comply with the region’s data protection rules. Source New York Times. They also raise concerns on how the world’s largest companies transfer digital information about people’s social media posts and online search queries, among other data, across the Atlantic. Europeans may approve the new trans-Atlantic data transfer pact, known as the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield, addressing the transfer of online data between the two regions, despite concerns about how the digital information of Europeans may be retrieved by the American government. 

    • - To exist, the cyber structure needs physical equipment installed on the earth. There is an almost magical aspect to this super-infrastructure with its cables and electronic components. With their restricted accesses and sounds of air conditioning, they create a fascinating reality of the physical internet space.

    • - By controlling some 90% of internet searches in Europe and the U.S., the popularity of Google supports the theory that most of the internet can be concentrated into a single space. Source Makery, Media for Labs

    • - The internet can be characterized as a hybrid space—on one side, the physical network of networks made up of wires and servers, and on the other, the virtual space containing the world of digital content.

    • - We speak of the internet as an interactive published print, continuously reconfigured according to the reader’s desire and adapting to the reader’s medium or device.

    • - It is commonly said that, with the internet, “distance is not relevant.” However, this concept tends to facilitate the concentration of the internet. Louise Druhle represents the internet with an hourglass figure, which “...helps us to understand how the Internet is centralized: the top part represents convergence with Earth space; the central point is the search engine (everything is potentially one click away). But as 90% of searches in Europe and the U.S. are done via Google, as the central point, Google occupies a strategic position.” Source Makery, Media for Labs 

    • - Druhle writes that the internet is a “predefined relief.” Source Makery, Media for Labs If so, the most powerful giants of the web, nicknamed GAFA in France (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), effectively weigh down all the elements and curve the space ... GAFA has “...dug into the surface of the web, dragging down their slope many activities that could have remained independent and decentralized,” Louise explains.

    • - Some critics have said that the internet is a “dumb network,” where intelligence is pushed out to the borders as the internet grows daily. Raymond C. Niles, in “Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet” in 2008, explained: “In order to achieve net neutrality, its advocates hold that the Internet must remain, as they put it, a “stupid network,” meaning unregulated by an intelligence that might favor the transmission of some content over other content. But because data is transmitted through the private property of ISPs—the expensive cables, computers, and other infrastructure that make the Internet possible—what they actually advocate is denying ISPs the right to manage their own property.”

This list is not exhaustive, but it is an attempt to summarize some of the major factors that affect our use and experience on the internet. If you missed a previous article on Louise Drulhe, find out about her research, as she raises further questions, which we will consider below. 

What Is the Size of the Internet, You Probably Wonder?

Maybe you’ve heard the joke about a man who boasts that he’s “almost finished reading the internet.” In truth, of course, that would be impossible, because the internet is a vast mass that is virtually endless. Or …  is it a single space where all online activity happens? So, which is it—a boundless mass or a single space?

The internet is both the online infrastructure that incorporates the globe and a single place shared worldwide.

In fact, the internet is everywhere, yet it is a single entity. It is both the concept and the thing. Such is its strength: the fact that it is a single shared space, but on a worldwide scale. By the very nature of its infrastructure, it monopolizes the circulation of content from the web.

We can also say, as Louise Drulhe demonstrates, that on the internet, “distance is not relevant.” Everything is potentially one click away—both close and far at the same time. But “the notion of space nevertheless remains. By making web pages close or distant (for example, by page ranking), the search engines control the internet architecture”. Zook, Matthew A, and Mark Graham. "Mapping DigiPlace: geocoded Internet data and the representation of place." Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 34.3 (2007): 466-482.

Although there is only one internet, it is different in each country. (For example, under some national laws, populations have no access to Google Earth). Nevertheless, the internet also remains this unique single space that is shared worldwide. It is a paradox between unicity and diversity.

Wendy Harcourt, commenting in her book, Women@Internet: creating new cultures in cyberspace (London: Zed Books, 1999) writes, “The internet we use is actually a projection of itself through the prism of locality. The internet is a single entity, but with a myriad of territorial projections.”  

More than a decade later, deeper fragmentations are observed in non-English speaking countries. Many argue that even if we have access to worldwide content with our computers, smartphones, and other devices, the internet usage and content should be determined by local needs and customs. The internet does not adapt itself to suit the realities of each region. How feasible is it to adapt the internet so that it fits into the customs of every region? This is a challenge for net neutrality.

Historic Factors

So how are we doing in furthering net neutrality around the world? Not too well. Questions about internet access and usage raise many challenges and concerns among regulators, tech companies, and users alike. We can agree on the economic and technical factors, yet may disagree on historical influences. A basic overview of the state of the web and the internet cannot skip the impact of historical factors.

Stiegler reminds us that the industrial revolution that started in the 18th century captured the know-how of the workers to transfer it to machines, and by doing so, it removed the unique assets from those workers. The system helped them and destroyed them at the same time.

In the same token, the data economy, based on mass data collection, does not produce knowledge, nor wisdom. It may provide access to wider information for a few, but it does not necessarily transform know-how.

Striegler comments that the web innovation, developed in Europe, was quickly adopted under then-vice-president Al Gore’s watch. Gore supported the first high-speed network legislation, and moved forward a whole range of initiatives. By the 1990s, the disruption accelerated on the world wide web with the creation of social networks and groups on the internet. The WELL, one of the first social networks, still stands out in the crowd. Then came Facebook, and a myriad of others, transforming our way of communicating with strangers, colleagues, family members.

This disruption changed industrial innovation processes at such high speed that social structures—family, education, legal, language—were broken. This disruption created an empty vacuum that affected the foundations of our judiciary, political, and economic systems.

Articles covering the timeline of the life of the internet are in abundance, describing the critical dates that slowly transformed the internet machine, and dutifully reporting the chaos. But the more pertinent questions are often missed, such as how and why does the nature of internet fragmentation affect the equality of access to education, knowledge dissemination, work, and quality of life?

Conversations by Xavier de Jancy and Bernard Stiegler, published in Télérama in April 2016: Le dossier Transmission Impossible: Savoirs, valeurs, langue…“Le capitalisme de consomation détruit les circuits de transmission”, (translation: Knowledge, values, language... capital consumerism destroys communication circuits), guided me through the incubation phase while writing this article and opened my eyes to new facts and ways of thinking about the state of the web. De Jancy and Stiegler’s words still resonate as I write.

De Jancy and Stiegler explain that governance of the internet, whether by governments, the private sector, civil society, or the technical community, is, of course, a key factor in determining the effects of the forces of fragmentation. Internet governance is moving in the direction of regrouping all technical, juridical, political, and economic issues under one banner, and it continues to be at the forefront of the norms of our modern societies. The development of IoT amplifies the questions about internet governance.

While we need harmonization, the tools and solutions are double-edged. A necessary alignment has no chance in the presence of pure market forces, even in the presence of government controls. The EU and chambers of commerce advocate for professional ethics and good governance. But, unfortunately, there are too many well-documented examples of the failure of these efforts to be effective safeguards against the over-reaching market forces that would manipulate the internet to their advantage. The trade agreements in the making, mentioned above, are alarming the most optimistic users across the globe.

As users of the internet, how do the rising tides of fragmentation affect us? Analysts have predicted that, with a global infrastructure and cross-border activities, the internet should stimulate a core of essential norms. However, the diversity and richness of our respective historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds, defining the values of our societies, will likely push our various communities to adopt differing technical options. This would not be a major problem if leaders could adopt policies of basic harmonization. Unfortunately, for most internet users, especially non-English speakers, an original and badly needed well-balanced alignment is unlikely to happen.

Meanwhile, to ignore the banality of pure market forces is akin to shooting oneself in the foot—it changes a positive good for all to a limited advantage for a few. But does it matter to politicians and stakeholders? Their visions seem to be controlled by short-term profits. As I write this, I think of a comment by a French general who was against wars, who said that army generals don’t usually declare wars, politicians do. The same is valid for the internet. The builders, the thinkers, created a neutral, decentralized web. Corporations, with strong lobbies, took control of the internet reins. 

I still hold out hope that more leaders will be brought to appreciate the value of the harmonization and decentralization of the internet, and that they will reorganize their priorities in a way that will place values, real governance of the internet, over the self-defeating forces of the market.

Disruption and Knowledge Transmission

What is knowledge? Content and data that is accumulated on servers in the cloud? Or know-how, inheritance passed to us by parents or peers? The word “knowledge” is a source of confusion among users from different cultures.

Quentin Hardy, in his New York Times article, “The Web’s Creator Looks to Reinvent It,” writes that the internet “... has since become the world’s most powerful medium for knowledge, communications, and commerce.” This interpretation of the word “knowledge” seems somewhat simplified. I feel that he ignores other semantic aspects of the word “knowledge” that we must preserve, which are perhaps lost in the English language but are so beloved in other languages and cultures. 

Human Factors

As human beings, the transmission of knowledge is one of our top assets. We base our social system on knowledge: parental education shared from one generation to the next, including arts, literature, philosophy, social habits, and customs—essentials to our well-being. One measure of our life success stems from the impact we have on others as we transmit knowledge about our culture, our languages, our social values. However, since the internet took over most of our data in this new digital world, it seems more difficult to transform data and information into knowledge.

By the same token, we must differentiate the process of accessing, archiving, and disseminating data (or content) from “knowledge.” You can stock books on shelves; it does not make you more knowledgeable. We collect data, download it, upload it to the cloud; it does not make us smarter—it simply facilitates the circulation of information. The information is more accessible to a larger public, but unfortunately, in the process itself, the transmission of knowledge is broken at different levels.

Like a domino effect, by our actions or non-actions, we are producing a chain of events with cumulative consequences. Critics are saying that we are responsible for our toxic amnesia, toxic habits, and, at the extreme, toxic alienation.

Toxic Amnesia

We think that if we are informed, we know more, it increases our intelligence. Not so! Knowledge is not only information but can lead to the transformation of the learners by what they learn. Information by itself transforms nothing. Or, if it does transform something, in the digital environment, it does so by removing know-how. What matters is the ways in which we can scrutinize, adopt or reject, learn, absorb, and apply the information to become part of our intelligence.

Based on automation, the internet and digital devices reduce our capacity for learning and critical thinking. We do mathematical processes with a calculator, grammar and spelling with spell-check and auto-completion. We read extracts and summaries of news based on our digital preferences and past habits on our browsers. By filtering our data, we block ourselves from important information that could open our eyes to other ways of thinking, other cultures; we are prevented from comparing or analyzing all facts and ideas.

William Poundstone, in his article in the New York Magazine (July 27, 2016), “The Internet Isn’t Making Us Dumber — It’s Making Us More ‘Meta-Ignorant,’” ( eloquently addresses how the internet is changing what we learn and remember. Poundstone goes further and pondered whether social media made us all amnesiacs, and wrote:

“Uploaded keystrokes are just one of many ways we have of storing information outside our brains. Long before our virtual social networks, we shared memory, knowledge, and expertise among our real social networks. The Google effect is another adaptation to distributed memory. The cloud is a friend who happens to know everything. It’s always available, provides the answer in seconds, and never gets upset with dumb questions. It’s little wonder we depend on it to the point of absurdity.”

He goes on to note that:

“The significant risk isn’t that the internet is making us less informed or even misinformed. It’s that it may be making us meta-ignorant — less cognizant of what we don’t know.”

Where do the responsibilities lie? Who is accountable educators, governments? Are we our own enemy?

Recent developments in troll culture make us pause as well, reflecting on the mainstream culture disseminated through the internet. Expressing socially unacceptable views is becoming more socially acceptable. Online harassment is a regular part of people’s jobs.

It also affects somehow, the way we, non-trollers, write on the internet. We are sometimes criticized when we try to express our ideas and opinions, and are often tagged as pretentious. This leaves politicians and scholars as the only “experts” who are deemed credible enough to voice their thoughts, and (you may agree with me) these thoughts are sometimes pathetic, and only a few bother or seem to discredit them.

As citizens of the new digital world, we have become society parrots, vomiting tweets and aggregated news, without being able or allowing ourselves to think on our own.  

When we were younger, we were taught to debate matters that are important in our lives. Today, we often avoid content that’s too long or dense, and that asks us to opine on socio-economic or cultural matters. We are satisfied to read shallow articles and books where the primary substance could be summarized in one or two sentences—thinking deeply and critically is becoming more uncommon.

Which type of behavior is celebrated as “cool”? On which types of news do journalists focus?  It seems that style is celebrated more than substance. Although we can see these trends and disagree with them, we are often complacent or complicit.

Toxic Habits

Studies show that playing games can benefit us in terms of memory, planning, and spatial navigation. But other research shows that games heighten our compulsive behavior and thereby our dependency on our electronic devices. We tend to lose the ability to be introspective. Teddy Wayne, in “The End of Reflection,” published in the New York Times on June 11, 2016 (quotes Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows:

“Finding moments to engage in contemplative thinking has always been a challenge since we’re distractible. But now that we’re carrying these powerful media devices around with us all day long, those opportunities become even less frequent, for the simple reason that we have this ability to distract ourselves always.” Wayne speaks about our current direction as indicative of the “loss of the contemplative mind.” The open-ended way of thinking, where questions can be rhetorical, is no longer necessary, it’s inefficient.

Wayne further observes that,

“It seems counter-intuitive to say that we are entering an non-reflective cultural phase, as our time tends to be criticized for its self-absorption…An interrupted road of distractions, the plasticity of the brain continuously shaped by experience, in a need of more ...”

Carr argues that our mental malleability has turned us into servants of technology, our circuits reprogrammed by our gadgets.

Toxic Alienation

As we become estranged from our real selves, losing our gift of introspection, we also alienate ourselves from civil society. We become the barbarians described by Alessandro Baricco, the writer, director, and performer whose work has been published all over the world. In The Barbarians, (see the first article in this series, “Critical Turning Point in the Transfer of Knowledge.

Baricco reasons that barbarians have no expertise, no erudition, no living skills, no building or innovation skills, no understanding or experience of quality that learning and education would have given them.

While Baricco’s viewpoint may seem extreme, his writing points to the fact that our society is leaning toward alienation from each other, a lessening of the direct human exchange that gives value to our existence. Is the internet isolating us from our local community? Perhaps the frequency of violent acts taking place in our communities is an expression of a need for recognition. 

The vacuum is filled with disruptive phenomena

Technological innovations improve processes but don’t necessarily bring riches to its innovators or workers.

Disruptive innovation is a strategy developed at Harvard University by professor Clayton Christensen. He imagined a marketing innovation where “... a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

Disruptive innovation, or disruptive technology, transforms the way we work. For example, take the e-book and associated technology that transformed the publishing industry processes. Authors became self-publishers. It may have been positive for authors, but was destructive for the printing industry and booksellers. Disruptive phases affect different sectors and cultures in various ways.

New technologies are giving a boost to processes, but new technology can also create havoc. We observe an increasingly heavy reliance on data analytics, social media, and software tools, due to thinking that there is a technological solution for everything. The tech phenomena have transformed the business models and culture, transforming our economies, societies, and cultures. Today, while companies are investing more in new technologies, their returns are often diminishing, in contrast with the past, when investments in technology brought increased returns. Instead of improving the quality of life of the workforce, it is often producing more hardship.

Technology and tech stakeholders often seem to be oblivious to the human factor--they do not address human problems. True, technology enables people to share, to mobilize around ideas, to start social movements. But this same technology enables individual activists, groups, or criminals to easily challenge and destroy our values more rapidly.

Socrates would probably agree that the understanding of human problems has not followed in the steps of technological progress. While a heavy reliance on technology has improved many business processes or innovations, in many cases it has alienated populations and negatively impacted societies. The need to invest in human-centric approaches that can bring social and economic improvements is dramatically increasing daily.

A new book by Bernard Stiegler tends to confirm the above. Recently published in French, Dans la Disruption – Comment ne pas devenir fou? (One might translate this as: “In the disruption – How do we not go mad?” Sam Kinsley - Geographies of Technology comments:

Here’s the front and back covers, and I offer a quick translation of the back cover:

Facing the disruption thus imposed, social systems always arrive too late to seize the ecological evolution, now thundering ahead in the digital revolution. Faced with this state of affairs, which requires countless legal and theoretical loopholes establishing a lawlessness which is a kind of technological Wild-West, individuals and groups are totally lost, often to the point of going mad, individually or collectively, and therefore becoming dangerous.

The concretization of what Nietzsche described as a growing desert of nihilism leaves 21st Century humans with no other perspective than facing the next of the limits of the Anthropocene.“For the lords of economic war disruption is “a phenomenon of the acceleration of innovation (…) which is going to happen more quickly in societies that allow them to impose programs that destroy social structures and render public power impotent. This is a kind of strategy of tetanizing one’s adversary”.

Louis-Jean Calvet, a linguist, author of La Méditerranée, mer de nos langues, (translation: Mediterranean, mother of our languages), adds that proficiency in language is the key to social integration. When a language is simplified, when the transmission chain is threatened, the gap widens between multi-linguists and the population less advanced in language skills.

Psychoanalysts point out that growing numbers of people in our modern societies express feelings of alienation, feeling an absence of reasons to live or to be counted as members of society. Too many, especially youths, are not able to find themselves grounded in their adoptive countries or societies in turmoil, yet they spend hours connected to their internet “friends” and their digital devices.

On the internet, their communication levels are limited to words and smilies. They are losing the ability to properly communicate verbally. Too many of them feel that they can bully and lie with impunity. All extreme types of communication become possible, allowed, endorsed, and sometimes encouraged by unscrupulous politicians and media.

What matters is how many viewers have clicked on a YouTube video, regardless if it is silly or horrific. They may not have been social with their peers at school, but many of them are well “connected” and very active on social networks. Some users admit that they could easily do something wrong on the internet to gain attention from family, peers, and society.

In the 1960s, many isolated and lonely young people were joining hippie communes, rejecting their societies and wanting to create a new paradigm. Half a century later, some of Generation Z, people born after 2000, are ready to break ranks and alienate themselves from their social networks. They focus their actions on rejecting the values and culture of their elders and provoking chaos. Are we capable of addressing such destructive attitudes on the web and the internet, to funnel this energy and bring new hope to those who are alienated, and thereby to all of us? Can game developers, educators create environments that transform destructive energy into a new force that offers inspiration, positive dreams and hopes?

I recently listened to an interview with Werner Herzog, when Wired asked him about digital etiquette. Herzog quoted: “The Prussian War theoretician Clausewitz—Napoleonic times—once famously said sometimes war dreams of itself.” And Herzog added, “Could it be that the Internet starts to dream of itself?”

Filmmaker Werner Herzog discusses his new film 'Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World' which examines the Internet and the data revolution.

Turning Chaos into Opportunities

In the midst of chaos, there are also opportunities. Sun Tsu

Corporate and political forces are largely driving the digital revolution, and we are starting to see first-hand the consequences: standardization, regulation, controls. Capitalist consumerism, which can be equated with the digital revolution, has the power to destroy the human aspect of the internet, which was yesterday under the control of mass media, today under the monitoring of social networks, and tomorrow controlled by artificial intelligence. Who is watching over the internet to ensure its freedom and positive direction? Where and who are the gatekeepers?  

How did the web change from a world wide web to a world wild web? Under our own watch and actions. Standards and safeguards can be encrypted into the web, like frontend and backend car sensors, automatic brakes that protect us when driving. As citizens of the world, the new evolving web makes each of us a gatekeeper, a role that we must endorse and assume.

The Internet is, and will be, what humans make of it.

Detox Time

To admit to ourselves that we are becoming internet addicts who are rapidly losing the knowledge of how to live without our digital devices may be one step in the recovery process. I ask myself if the internet is my reward for being an member of the digital revolution, or is it my punishment? Parents, educators, doctors are already dealing with this conundrum. This is a vital concern for each of us who want nothing more than to experience the joie de vivre, or joy of life. Digital detox tools, courses, seminars are already targeting all ages. It is probably a good business model for would-be consultants.

New Beginnings

“What can be done with such madness, in such madness?“ asked Stiegler. Is it possible to re-invent or reform the web in the Digital Age? To confront the forces that seem to be marching us inexorably toward a way of life that may not be in our best interests? The words of the Internet Society ring true:

Imagine a world where everyone can access and help develop a connected, borderless, limitless Internet that creates opportunity and progress for all. Have a voice. Play your part.

Let’s blow away demoralization that slowly envelops us too often. The dynamics of the forces (tech versus human) can lead to a balance. Having lived in Asia for many years, I think of the Ying and the Yang. According to Chinese philosophy, “Opposite or contrary forces that are complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, can give rise to each other as they interrelate.” If so, in the middle of disruption or chaos, the digital revolution will inevitably open new doors. We must remember that we are our own gatekeepers.

First published on Copyright © 2016 Frontmatter Limited. All rights reserved.


Agnes Banks is a content contributor and Director at Frontmatter Limited.


Copyright Intro Image:  Miguel Rosales

Copyright Full Text Images: © 2016 Frontmatter Limited

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