THERE was a time in the early 2000s when the arrival of the internet was considered the great panacea of the times. The free and unhampered flow of high speed communication made possible by networked computers all over the globe was to usher in the era of our greatest democratic fantasies.
With just a modem and a telephone line, it was imagined that the hoi polloi can now have access to information platforms that used to be reserved to the privileged few.
The most extreme of these internet pipe dreams was that the lowly farmer can now have direct access to markets where he can trade goods without the traditional middle men cutting into his profits. Politicians cannot anymore monopolize power and public resources as the free flow of information on the net allow for absolute social transparency. Finally, the internet will bring about the era of equality and democracy that the working class failed to realize hundreds of years since Marx - at least, this was supposedly one of the internet’s dizzying promises apart from free and unlimited porn.
The technology was supposed to also engender a critical and educated citizenry given its potential for reflexive and participative engagement. Unlike the traditional media platforms of old such as print, broadcast, and television, that coursed information through a single direction where the audience are regarded as mere receptacles of whatever mass media churns out, the new media facilitated by the internet allow for multiple voices to be considered, even including the rebuttal of the audience in the conversation.
Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan already sounded the alarm about the dangers of mass media and the one-way flow of information as manipulative platforms that zombify the audience. The medium itself carries a message and the regard for the television as the idiot box came from such a critique. Integrated into this fear were the high chances for manipulation by the powers-that-be who will always find the reason and logic to control the hearts and minds of the masses. Thus, it was always healthy to be wary of the management boards of these big media conglomerates who are funded by business and government interests. After all, maintaining control and discipline over the dominant ideas and emotions of a society is a textbook prerequisite in the reproduction of power.
There has been talk that the internet will finally sound the death knell to traditional media and make way for a new, more deliberative kind of social practice with the new technologies of connection providing the new social platform.
But three decades since the bleeps and moans of a connecting modem over the phone lines to the network made growing boys sweaty with prurient anticipation, these grand promises remain just that, unfulfilled and unmet. If anything, the internet was thoroughly successful in only one thing - that is to make porn prevalent and accessible. What happened to the internet as the ultimate tool for leveling the playing field in the market and enhancing democratic participation? Should it even come as a shock that we also found new media subject to the same manipulative forces that made traditional media so suspicious?
There is a simple answer to this, one that escapes us because it is right at our very noses. The ethos that informs traditional media three decades ago is the same that drives the substance of our signifying behaviors online in contemporary times. It is the same desire for instant gratification and narcissism that was once beamed through the airwaves through television and radio and also reflected in glossy films of that era.
Now, this celebration of the self has been thoroughly internalized so much so that when we are all finally given the platform to broadcast as what the internet supposedly democratizes, we can only mirror what has been placed there within us by mass media of the past as a reflection and limit of the unchanged mode of production. There are also the same forces that engineer opinions and public perception through grand PR schemes, digital influencers, and troll farms belying the democratic potential of the medium.
Not the ethos of democracy and equality or a kind of deliberative communicative democracy are shared. But instead, a fractious and searing self-love and gratification that grow ever insular and detached that provide fertile ground for fake news and other contemporary shenanigans. No wonder that the internet is only good for porn and not much else, for now.