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<nettime> Re: The User is the Content
John Horvath on Wed, 24 Sep 1997 17:36:55 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Re: The User is the Content


Here are two replies. First, to John Perry Barlow:

> Kindly explain to me why complaint is more virtuous than optimism.

I am not stating anything of the sort. Rather, I'm against the notion of
putting on rose-coloured glasses in order to blind yourself as to what
is really going on. You can talk about all the virtues of the Internet,
and it will mean nothing so long as there are people prevented from
gaining access to it. By prevention I am talking mostly about economic
deprivation. This is something more basic to computers. For instance, I
heard on Blue Danube radio (Austria) last week that in the US there are
800,000 families that can afford to eat only one meal a day. What it all
boils down to is that economic freedom is a condition of political and
digital freedom. Trying to skip over this fact is no solution; nor is
bringing up this uncomfortable state of affairs merely a complaint. I
discuss this in detail more in an essay I wrote to coincide with the
Internet&Politics conference, entitled "Internet Democracy". You should
be able to find this essay on Teleopolis <http://www.heise.de/tp>. If
not, I'll send it to you or if others wish I can post it to the list.

Next, a reply to Mr Soares, a reply that is no way unrelated to the
above:

First, there is this statement:

> [I had] failed to comprehend was the irony of it all [about the
  success of the US entertainment media]

I had not failed to note the irony; what I was questioning is what you
regard by the term "success", which is one reason I gave a reference to
Jeremy Seabrook's article (and which is one reason why John Perry Barlow
thinks I'm complaining). In it he (Seabrook) argues that American media
is not a success; it is an illusion that makes people act against their
own interest. Yes, for the producers of this entertainment media, as
well as those oiling the wheels of this machine, it might appear to be a
success. But to those who have this entertainment media shoved down
their throat, it's not. The values and images it creates makes people
insecure, for they can never attain the levels of prosperity or glamour
that they see before them. Furthermore, others become addicted to it
like a drug in such a way that crime (because of the consumption
element), political apathy, and social irresponsibility is the result.

As for the "level playing field", although you did not specifically
state it in those terms that is nevertheless the gist of what your essay
is about: the idea of having the power (or potential for power) in your
hands via the digital media. I merely went further on to give an example
of how dangerous this notion of the Internet can be (such as the idea
that you can easily turn the Internet as a mass media device for your
own ends).

Your essay was baited with truisms that, if uncritically swallowed,
traps one into believing that American entertainment media is a success
(which would lead to a perversion of Churchill's statement that
democracy is not the best possible system, but it's the best we got),
along with the view that the future lies in the Internet and that
solutions to our problems can be found within the digital media. This,
of course, is pure nonsense. As I commented earlier this summer in the
bandwidth discussion, social conditions must be first addressed,
otherwise you (and me, and the rest of us with computers) are nothing
more than a digital elite. And as an elite, we invariably prefer to
shelter ourselves from the outside, unable to grasp at what is really
going on or why people are poor and un(der)developed (the common answer
to this undoubtedly would be "it's their fault". See the Barlow quote in
Shuller's article which was recently posted to the list.).

All this does not mean digital media can't be used to improve the human
condition. However, in order to do so more effort has to be made to
bring people up to a basic level, which in this case means bringing them
online, either through education, providing access, and demanding
governments to acknowledge that free and unhindered access is a basic
human right, and not a privilege. As long as one person remains offline
against their will -- either through political or economic means -- then
the promises that are being made about digital media are clearly false,
in much the same way that American entertainment media/culture is.

All the best,
John



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