This week in DIGC202 one of the main themes we looked at was cyber-utopianism – the belief that the Internet has the power to democratise and change society for the better. I found the concept of cyber-utopianism a little bit difficult to get my head around, but I found this YouTube video where Evgeny Morozov explains cyber-utopianism with cool animated drawings as support:
In this video, Morozov explains that cyber-utopians believe that if we are all connected, then democracy is inevitable, which is a very deterministic view of technology. He dispels what he considers to be the naive belief that technology is emancipatory and has the power to free society.
I would have to agree that many people give too much weight to the democratising power of the Internet. Among the youth, at least, the Internet is mainly used for entertainment and communication between friends, rather than political activism.
The utopian mindset that Morozov is combating is what is expressed in Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, which declares the Internet as a place independent of external governmental control – no government can silence the voices online. He believes that the Internet can liberate our world, transcending governance leading to a united civilisation.
Amidst reading about all of these pro- and anti- cyber-utopian views, I started reading the book ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ by Andrew Keen. It’s making me realise that I am not exactly a cyber-utopian. Keen does not believe in the all-mighty democratising power of the Internet. His book definitely challenges Web 2.0 utopians, arguing that the overwhelming use of blogs, YouTube and other social media sites which allow for the creation and promotion of user-generated content are having negative consequences on our creative and financial economies.
I think Keen has a point. Yes, we are a networked society and we all have the power to blog, tweet and voice our opinions about political and social issues. But I believe the majority of us do not do this – and even if we did, our voice is merely one of the billions of voices screaming across cyberspace, trying to get attention.
Thanks for reading!