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Will there be an Internet Independence Day?

26 January 2012

I was listening to Jeff Jarvis talking about Davos on TWiG episode 131. He was mentioning that he had a chance to see what the 0.1% thought about the Internet and SOPA protests. As I think he put it, “They’re scared shitless.”

My mind began to jump about with other topics and something came to me. If these ultra powerful people are scared, what would be the core of their fear? Do they think that, like Victor Frankenstein, they have created a monster so powerful that they can neither control, nor destroy it? Do they instead think that the Internet community is beginning to rise up and revolt against them? Either story usually results in brutality and possible self destruction. But there is yet another question to be asked, is the Internet community fighting for its independence, and what would that look like?

I thought I would put this out to ponder. What is the Internet in relation to the physical world? Is it a nation onto its own that crosses the political boundaries of the globe as we know it? Is it an entity that should be made to answer to a council or higher power and tasked with the responsibility of self regulation? These are important things to consider, because the doctor has named its monster, the empire its rebellion. We know what is likely to follow and the only question then will be, will the Internet be subdued or triumphant?

Ponders

One Comments to “Will there be an Internet Independence Day?”

  1. Culture need not be constrained by physical proximity; we see this when we look at all the Canadian immigrants who still strongly identify with home cultures half a world away. In essence, what is “culture” except for a system knowledge and interests that are shared between like-minded individuals, and then encoded in a unique symbolic way to differentiate that shared knowledge and interest from those that other people possess? If we can trust this definition, then I’d say the “Internet culture” fulfills the requirements of common knowledge/interest and unique symbolism as well as any physical culture:

    1) Hacker values emphasizes knowledge sharing and community building (just look at any thriving Linux community). Furthermore, despite its frontier status as a place where anything can happen, the Internet community more broadly can and has converged on on certain points, demonstrating remarkable solidarity (e.g. SOPA protests, widespread Internet vigilantism surrounding Dusty the cat and dog shit girl, etc.). These people can and has come together, formed lynch mobs and created pariahs out of those who violated the shared values of the community’s members. This has even escalated into full-blown culture wars (e.g. Anonymous vs. Scientology).

    2) The Internet community also does all of this while using its own symbolic representation (L33t), and therefore has differentiating symbolism and thus language. It even has sub-dialects of L33t that differentiate subcultures within a broader Internet “culture”.

    After all that, I’d say the Internet definitely represents a new form of culture, and a potentially militant one at that. True not everyone who logs on will build the next Ubuntu kernel, DDos Wall Street, or make any use of the word “pwnd”; but not everyone who passes through America has any interest in living out the American Dream either. Culture is defined by solidarity around shared values, not complete uniformity in those values…and the Internet certainly has the former.

    Hegemonic power over another culture comes from understanding and decrypting the cultural outsider, and it’s only natural for the 0.1% to fear any poorly understood and possibly hostile “upstart” community. With numbers that can’t be measured, abilities that can’t be understood, and injection into so many facets of everyday life, one can’t help but find Internet culture imposing. And as long as the Internet community remains that mysterious, that inscrutable and that seemingly omnipotent, the rest of the world will always be more than a little bit wary.

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