Leaders, Followers and the Impending Desire to Disconnect
I am not revealing anything new when I say that the World Wide Web order is divided between Leaders and Followers.
Many think of the Web as the most powerful culture equalizer and facilitator ever invented, permitting borderless communication amongst humans and a limitless, free of charge, exchange of data, hence translating into knowledge and cultural empowerment, in a truly “democratic” manner.
I beg to differ, to a fairly large extent.
It is no surprise to me that the WWW age we live in, whose reach and influence was unthinkable until a few years ago, follows in a pyramidal organization exactly the same concepts and structure as many other historical and socio-political columns of history, such as fascism, communism and capitalism.
There are leaders and there are followers, there are “influencers” and influenced.
This happens now with far less transparency and potentially far more dangerous consequences than in the past, partially due to the virtually limitless global reach of the medium.
For example, cultural and political propaganda finds a very conducive territory in the virtual world. Depending on someone’s resources (technical resources but, truly, financial ones – as it has always been the case, in history) it is now possible to “go viral” with any unchecked fact, or even worst, any “subjective dogma.”
Based on your reach and “clout” on the web, you can easily spread, worldwide, anything you want others to believe, more efficiently and widely than it was ever possible to do in the past. Depending on the level of your web power, you can also easily censor opponents, doing so without even letting them know who you really are. You can build a completely preposterous smear campaign against someone who might not even be aware of what is happening until the damage is done.
Indeed, the web can easily be used as a perfect platform to engage in antisocial activities, bearing little risk and consequences for the people behind such activities: slander, misinformation, petulant and nearly unstoppable spamming and much, much worst.
Occasionally we hear about teenagers, and even adults, who commit suicide after a barrage of insults, accusations or revelations, inundates their Facebook pages.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, and it gets fairly easily dismissed and forgotten along the constant stream of images and uncategorized information we receive everyday.
It is just one example of the many serious dangers of today’s quasi-evangelical endorsement of virtual lifestyle on all continents.
The main reasons I seriously worry about the present and future dangers of our “connected lifestyle” are three:
One is the mostly unchanged hierarchy and distribution of power that simply migrated its reach and arrogant despotism from the real to the digital world, creating a virtual duplicate of the same forces that ruled humanity throughout history, albeit with a much more easy reach to more people and an increased capability to periodically re-polish and to re-market neatly its façade.
Two is the total lack of an enforceable civility code. Unfortunately this also mirrors “real life”, as it happens in a world that, not only online, but also in the streets, seems to increasingly disregard civil behavior, polite debate and honesty, as the indispensable tools for peaceful human cohabitation and growth.
Thirdly, I worry about an increased loss of what in my youth was called “common sense” by the most fervent users of this technology.
I see this happening around me, in real life, everyday.
Mothers texting while their toddler walks undetected towards incoming traffic, entire families sitting around a dinner table where no one converses because they are busy texting or browsing their “smart” devices, travelers plugging up their ears with loud music while fiddling with the usual multitasking object in their hands.
The list could go on. It appears that there is a global ratio where “smart devices” already vastly outnumber the “smart usage” of such devices. Abuse of technology is not only dangerous; it clearly promotes anti-social behavior and the definitive demise of common sense.
But let’s analyze another worrying web life misconception: many of us engage in sharing common interests (such as art, photography etc.) on web agglomerates they refer to as “Online Communities”.
This always sounded a bit of an oxymoron to my ears. A real community is usually the antithesis of a corporation. Many if not all of the virtual places where people meet to share their common interest could not be further removed from my concept of “communal space”.
They are simply businesses: online businesses we patronize.
So, I ask myself: what fuels the naïve concept that anybody can use, free of charge or paying a small fee, the virtual business premises of Flickr or Facebook and expect to be heard, to raise their voice, when something happens on the site and they aren’t in agreement with it?
Ignorance might be an answer. Not only ignorance about how the web works, but also about the very concept of business ethics (or lack thereof) in a capitalist society.
For instance I am certainly not an advocate for limitless spying by the NSA over millions of people all over the world, but I am always sincerely surprised when the harshest critics of this quite demented and overreaching US Government spying program volunteer their most private information (down to last minute GPS coordinates of the restaurant they are dining at) to Facebook, a private company, prone to drastically and draconically change their TOS every other week, with even less rules and obligations towards privacy than a Government spying agency should have.
I do feel there is stringent need to dominate technology as technology is already dominating us, while corporate greed on one side and the lack of farsightedness in most users on the other is allowing the problem run unchecked beyond the possibility of control and solution.
To conclude, I’ll say I am not at all against technological advances, but I am indeed against a careless, misinformed, unequivocal endorsement and misuse of all technology all the time.
There is no going back. The Internet is here to stay and that’s why I think we need to create an intelligent strategy to control it, not at a government or corporate level, but at a human level. Such strategy is not in place, yet, nor is being taught in schools, nor is being regarded as indispensable.
Being slaves of a technology we never learned how to use properly can deprive us of our civil liberties, our freedom and, amongst many other things, of the uniqueness of our human and cultural identity.
What’s worst it will try to make us follow the same old leaders, or even new ones, with their old agendas, without giving us any personal, organic or even intuitive tools to validate, at least for ourselves, if they are worth following or not.