Thursday, January 24, 2008

Does the internet liberate or enslave us?

A book by Lee Siegel "Against the Machine," reviewed by Janet Maslin in the NY Times, and an essay by Nicholas Carr raise a related set of arguments that challenge the assumption that the internet is a liberating force, a force for freedom, diffusing power and information among the many, rather than the few. At the same time web traffic in increasing, it is becoming more centralized. Carr notes:
-During the five years from 2002 through 2006, the number of Internet sites nearly doubled, yet the concentration of traffic at the ten most popular sites nonetheless grew substantially, from 31% to 40% of all page views
-Google continues to expand its hegemony...In March 2006, the company's search engine was used to process a whopping 58% of all searches in the United States, according to Hitwise. By November 2007, the figure had increased yet again, to 65%. The results of searches are also becoming more, not less, homogeneous. Do a search for any common subject, and you're almost guaranteed to find Wikipedia at or near the top of the list of results.
-Executives of Yahoo and Sun Microsystems have recently predicted that control over the net's computing infrastructure will ultimately lie in the hands of five or six organizations.
-To what end will the web giants deploy their power? They will, of course, seek to further their own commercial or political interests by monitoring, analyzing, and manipulating the behavior of "users." ...What's different, in comparison to the physical world, is that acts of control are more difficult to detect.

Graphical depiction of the Internet as consisting of a dense core of 80 or so critical nodes surrounded by an outer shell of 5,000 sparsely connected, isolated nodes that are very much dependent upon this core. (Shai Carmi, Bar Ilan University)

Siegel deals with socially toxic effects of the internet. From Maslin's review, describing Siegle's account of Starbucks, as one is:
...surrounded by Internet zombies, laptop-addicted creatures who have so grievously lost their capacity for human interaction “that social space has been contracted into isolated points of wanting, all locked into separate phases of inwardness.”...the semblance of a shared Starbucks experience masks endemic computer-generated isolation, a condition that has prompted psychic and ethical breakdowns that go well beyond the collapse of community....why we are living so gullibly through what would have been the plot of a science-fiction movie 15 years ago. Why does the freedom promised by the Internet feel so regimented and constricting? Why do its forms of democracy have their totalitarian side? What happens to popular culture when its sole emphasis is on popularity? How have we gone “from ‘I love that thing he does!’ to ‘Look at all those page views!’ in just a few years”?


  1. Anonymous12:07 PM

    this is an awesome blog. keep it up!

  2. hey, it IS an awesome blog.... i was just online chatting to a friend in australia and telling her about this blog... she asked, does it have any posts about television and the brain...

    not that i can see in the tags, i said, but he has some heart-felt posts on meditation

    the point is, this was all taking place on the internet...

    now, addiction... to newspapers, tv, no doubt, internet, no doubt, love affairs, no doubt....

    to being alive, no doubt

    carr is a smart writer, the subject is interesting, but i dont think it is going away, .... it is the demonstration of the ability of consciousness to know at a distance, and will refine forever

    couple of bumps here and there, but it is life in action, and kind of magic

    jeez, i would write more, and more coherently, but i have a couple of windows open, and am still chatting with my friend in australia

    enjoy, thanks

  3. just looked at the amazing internet illustration you have for this post...

    boy, did those mystics who invented mandalas know something....

    the internet is merely a way station on the way to mass omniscience....

    if you want to know what the mind can do, and extrapolate what technology will be doing, merely read the third chapter of patanjili's yoga sutras, it is online, and short

    the third chapter is called siddhis, and is a list of all the powers that a normal mind should have

    i wrote the article once, red herring never responded, i ditched it

    enjoy, gregory

  4. The article sounded to me like, "This is different than how I grew up, and therefore it's bad!"

  5. Anonymous8:44 PM

    Only a few people create the innovations that support and occupy the rest. Give the masses freedom and they clamor for something to take up their time.

    Is it justice, is it revolution? It is simply life as humans live it.

    YouTube is very popular. Other sites less frequented are clearly revolutionary.