Why the Internet Is Ground Zero in the Global Consciousness War
Continued from previous page
With music, Peter Gabriel was one of the first to recognize that a likely - and potentially very cool - shift of emphasis could be from focus on product, that perfectly finished single or album, to a focus on process, on the continual development of a group or artist. He foresaw a model where audiences would pay to subscribe to follow a favorite artist's progress toward a finished work, noting that the completed product was often only one version of many interesting improvisations. Gabriel foresaw that the changes in media would ultimately give more control and power to the artists, and although we are still in a transition phase where this often gets obscured, I believe that he is correct. How this will ultimately play out is still unknown, but it is entirely evident that not only information, but art, yearns to be free.
We see the new landscape, in which the creative innovator can now reach directly to a huge audience without need of a corporate intermediary, in those Youtube phenomena where an unknown puts out a series of comedy sketches or conspiracy theory videos and suddenly attracts an audience in the tens of millions, or more. Not just videos but new forms of social media and interactive technologies can rapidly explode. One recent example is Chat Roulette, created by a Russian teenager, now attracting over 30 million users a month. While much of what goes viral in this way is the usual vacuous trash, this cultural opening has also allowed for phenomena like the Zeitgeist Movement, where an effort is being made to transform cultural reach into a new type of social and political force, supporting the vision of a "resource based economy" developed by the Venus Project.
The Internet is a battleground right now, on so many levels. It is ground zero in the global consciousness war, between those entrenched forces that want to control consciousness and manage perception, to maintain their power and market share, and those other constituencies who represent a range of outsider perspectives, from far right to anarchist, spiritually enlightened to blindly enraged. Money is becoming increasingly virtual, vaporous, and abstract. Attention has become the new currency, as those companies able to focus the attention of the masses take the lead in a new intangible realm, redefining the boundaries of identity (what is private and what is public now? What is personal expression and what promotion?), transmuting culture and society at the core, and reaping extraordinary rewards in the process.
Shaped by the struggles of the revolutionary period, the founding fathers made "freedom of the press" and freedom of speech into key principles of the emergent American republic. Corporate dominance - and collusion between the defense complex and the media conglomerates - has eroded these freedoms in many subtle and overt ways. Today, Net neutrality is an issue that needs active support from an engaged citizenry, as the plausible prospect that the telecoms will be given more power to determine what content is available is a truly horrible one. The notion of protecting the "global commons" could become a rallying cry for civil society.
Although many of the major players avoid acknowledging this, the shaping of attention is an inherently political act. While I use Facebook all the time - to take one obvious example - because that's where the people (400 million of them) are now, I find it extraordinarily frustrating as a tool. Originally designed to fit the short attention spans of college kids, Facebook maintains the feckless ambience of television. It encourages a passively ironic attitude, for the benefit of the "flattered self" that expects all of the attention pointed in its direction, like a baby who knows it's mother can't help but coo over its every move. The architecture of Facebook does not allow for deeper discourse, collaboration or critique. Eventually, I believe it will be superseded by a network that encourages critical and analytical thought, that is carefully designed to support a rapid increase in collective intelligence and the evolution of civil society.