Review of the Net Delusion and Response to Jaron Lanier on Wikileaks

My last two pieces were published over at the Atlantic, mostly because Alexis Madrigal has been doing a spectacular job covering some of the recent events, especially those regarding Wikileaks, and I wanted to be part of that conversation.

I reviewed Evgeny Morozov’s new book, The Net Delusion. Excerpt below, the whole review here.

“But I disagree that the reason online protests do not work is that they are online, or they are easy. The reality, at this juncture in history, is that nothing really works. The Internet is not the problem; global citizen disempowerement is. It’s not the technology that is failing politics but it is our politics that has failed. …

Political activism is not failing because people are too busy watching cat videos online, but because of a fundamental collapse of citizen leverage on institutions of power like governments and corporations. I find it ironic that, after correctly warning about the dangers of an Internet-centric worldview in which everything is perceived through the prism of the Net, Morozov himself is caught in a net-centric analysis of political activism’s decline.

If surveillance, censorship and propaganda are the three pillars of authoritarianism, information, organization and leverage are the counter-pillars of citizen power. And the Internet provides the best and most appropriate infrastructure for strengthening all three. Morozov correctly claims that it does not do so in an unmitigated manner but unmitigated is not the same as ineffective or irrelevant.

In this regard, the Internet is the greatest antidote to anti-communitarian forces. Frankly, I find even the most mindless lolcat sites on the Internet to be an improvement over canned-laughter-filled sitcoms. The point of lolcats is not the lolcats themselves, but to share them with friends, comment on them, make more of them, and enter the community via the joke. It’s the community, not the cat, that matters. (If you doubt this, try selling a book of lolcats and see how well it does.) I write this review in the aftermath of an atrocity; the assassination attempt in Arizona on a Congresswoman that claimed the lives of six others including a child. Every Internet community I am part of is roiled and there is widespread discussion on most of them about the event. Fifteen years ago, we’d all be watching TV, not communicating with each other.”

I also responded to Jaron Lanier’s piece about Wikileaks, where he claimed that Wikileaks revealed nerd supremacy. You can read the whole thing here; excerpt below:

“During these past weeks, rather than a nerd takeover, I saw the crumbling of the facade of a flat, equal, open Internet and the revelation of an Internet which has corporate power occupying its key crossroads, ever-so-sensitive to any whiff of displeasure by the state. I saw an Internet in danger of becoming merely an interactive version of the television in terms of effective freedom of speech. Remember, the Internet did not create freedom of speech; in theory, we always had freedom of speech–it’s just that it often went along with the freedom to be ignored. People had no access to the infrastructure to be heard. Until the Internet, the right to be heard was in most cases reserved to the governments, deep pockets, and corporate media. Before the Internet, trees fell in lonely forests.

The Wikileaks furor shows us that these institutions of power are slowly and surely taking control of the key junctures of the Internet. As a mere “quasi-public sphere,” the Internet is somewhat akin to shopping malls, which seem like public spaces but in which the rights of citizens are restricted, as they are in fact private. If you think the freedom of the Internet could never be taken back, I implore you to read the history of radio. Technologies that start out as peer-to-peer and citizen-driven can be and have been taken over by corporate and state power.”

2 thoughts on “Review of the Net Delusion and Response to Jaron Lanier on Wikileaks

  1. stefaan vande walle

    I found your review of the Net Delusion excellent, in particular in drawing attention to the danger of net-centrism, interpreting trends solely from an internet viewpoint. I’ll follow you blog from now on.

  2. Alexandre

    Interesting. On the second theme, you’ve probably encountered Wu’s Master Switch. Haven’t read the book (don’t like longform), but his attitude is rather thoughtful, at least from the interviews he’s been giving about the book, CBC Spark, for instance. Sounds like the ‘Net, like radio and other technologies, is closing down. To be honest, hadn’t really thought about the prospect of a closed Internet. Guess some of us take the Open Internet for granted.
    Ah, well…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *