...and the internet mobilizes
January 18th, 2012
I think that we have been witnessing something absolutely fascinating over the last few years, periodic examples of leaderless revolutions which build momentum in a chaotic and unpredictable manner and spread to the widest reaches of the world at the speed of thought. The latest example of such an uprising was today's mass internet blackout over two anti-piracy bills (SOPA, PIPA) which the US Congress is currently considering. Thousands of websites went dark in protest and within hours, 4.5 million people had signed a petition on Google opposing the bill. As a result, several members of the Congress who had earlier supported the bill, overwhelmed by the grassroots response, ended up withdrawing their support by the end of the day. Over the last few months, several other immense institutions (Verizon, BofA etc.) were brought to their knees by internet uprisings with a swiftness which could not have been possible even a few years ago. The Internet, with its great reach and democracy, has started to flex its muscles and as a trailer, has begun by being pivotal in the toppling of decades old authoritarian regimes as part of the Arab spring.
I cannot help but think that this is a pivotal moment in history. Not only does Internet's resume already appear impressive, it also promises to be that tool which might usher in true accountability and democracy. And it would do it precisely by being messy and arbitrary. Sure it is strife with stupid pictures of cats and an endless barrage of memes but in its frivolity it gives voice and even legitimacy to the ideas of the next generation - the only ideas which are worth anything when it comes to the question of the future. As the Internet expands to subsume more and more facets of social interaction, the youth which would be the primary participant would start to have more and more say in the proceedings. And from the looks of it, it appears to be a good idea because then the important decisions would be made based more upon the views of a population which would be more educated and informed than it has ever been. Things start to rot when power gets concentrated in the hands of a few. They really start to stink when the powerful also start controlling the flow of information. Although democracy is expected to treat these ills, it's often merely a rigmarole where the elected end up being influenced by the powerful few and they perpetuate their stay at the top by keeping the population uneducated, uninformed, and divided on any number of lines. And in a traditional society they manage to do that because they control the flow of information. But democracy still is the best solution because it at least has the potential of being fair and fruitful. It just requires a mechanism where the elected can be kept on a short leash with the provision of a prompt whipping if they are found to be not performing according to their duties. The Internet, with its deep reach and immense integration across pointless divides, promises to be that short leash.
These are fun times to live through. The old guard seems to have absolutely no clue as to how to control the thoughts and opinions of people on the net. They have tried to make pathetic little attempts only to be promptly wrapped on the knuckles. And with every little victory which the netizens score, it seems that the old economy, old government and the old way of doing business loses another creaking support. I believe that the traditionalists will learn to respond better to the new challenges. There would perhaps be more legislative attempts at limiting the democratic and free exchange of information on the internet. We might even see internet lobbying becoming a trend in the future. Religion was said to be the opium of the masses but that observation is already dated in the modern world whose blind religion, I think, is popular entertainment as dished out on traditional media. As more and more people spend more and more of their time on the net, I believe that further attempts would be made to 'tame' the passion. But given the participatory nature of the net, I think that it's going to require much more ingenuity on the part of the powers that be to pull it of. For now they can only look incomprehensibly at this incongruous mechanism and wonder how much of a transformation they will have to undergo in order to be able to compete in this game whose rules already appear to have been changed.