The Misleading Emancipatory Potential of Technology

Today, one sees great fervour and excitement expressed throughout the grand spheres of modern communications. Through the ‘social’ networks and the micro-blogs, the loud declarations of a new age of openness and liberalism continue to resound. Supposedly, the monopolists and murderers of every state – no matter what their operating ideology is – quake in their boots at the liberating potential of these new technologies. The ease and speed by which great reams of secret documents can be taken and spread digitally has never been seen before. The exposure of explicit acts of violence through the ubiquity of the camera-phone (and the video streaming sites that allow their fast upload) allows such actions to be seen by millions, whereas before they would have gone unrecorded and unreported. It would seem then, that the coercers have a great struggle on their hands, what with the spirited youth that uses and understands these technologies with greater gusto than their elder heads.

There is much talk of the ‘Twitter Revolutions’ and the ‘Arab Spring’, but what revolutions are we referring to? Actions in Bahrain led to the state setting upon and killing swathes of the populace. Ditto Iran. The situation in Syria seems to be still undecided. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was thrown out, although it appears that the Islamist Freedom & Justice Party will win power in alliance with the Egyptian military. Qadafi was removed from power, but that required murderous support from NATO forces and will be replaced by yet another government (and another Islamist one at that). Morocco saw minor ‘reforms’ promised. The only nation that saw supposedly great changes was Tunisia, which now ‘has’ a ‘democracy’.  It would seem then, that this era of great change has led to very little and what it has led to is ‘liberating’ only in the minds of those who prefer their coercive societies to pretend to consult all, dress up in suits and cloak their theft and murder in democratic ‘legitimacy’.  All we see is a continuation of the same assumptions of ‘national’ authority and the same threat-filled power relations, like the outcome of all previous ‘revolutions’. The ‘democracy’ political meme has been the dominating euphemism for a state structure that is unquestioned as the height of ‘civilised’, ‘human’ association in mainstream ‘Western’ discourse since the end of the Second World War. However, even the dominance of this dishonest approach to mass third-party threat and violence is beginning to wane as the Chinese system of explicit violence becomes accepted and normalised. Indeed, where are the ‘Twitter’ revolutions in China? Of course, the despots of Beijing have been furthest ahead of the technology game, and the target of jealousy from all territorial monopolists for their ‘great firewall of China’.

Still, it would seem that many of these state power structures were ‘caught out’ by the campaigning potential of these new technologies. Rest assured, all states have since begun to employ new strategies for containing – and even using – these technologies for their own gain. They would never allow this kind of exposure to occur again, even as relatively limited as its effects have turned out to be. Indeed, what is to stop agents of any government using Twitter and Facebook to control and engineer activities by the populace? Absolutely nothing at all; and the halo – that so many young activists see when they refer to the internet as a means for social change – will slip in time. The exposure of the Kony 2012 campaign as a cynical money-making and war-mongering operation by its founders has begun to show the dark side of the medium. It is so easy to click a ‘like’ and then spread and send information (regardless of its truth or falsity) in order to feel that one is ‘supporting’ a ‘movement’. This gives both the people involved in it – and the press that reports on it – a false sense of achievement and a misleading understanding of their own power potential to actually make those ‘changes’. Indeed, through the internet there are many so-called ‘movements’ popping up today that are little more than people arguing and agreeing by means of recorded video on ‘YouTube’.  The comfort of this arrangement is obvious – physically one need not even stand up to express one’s opinion to a potential audience of millions. Psychologically – one tends to communicate with people who already share one’s own views or a close approximation thereof, confirming biases and encouraging one to only communicate with those people.  Also, watching as the subscriber numbers rise (as more videos are posted) gives one a false sense of external value from the mere mouse-clicking of others. Furthermore, in this visual medium, one is on display and becomes ‘famous’ (in varying degrees) – usually amongst the relatively small band of people that take an interest in the topic at hand. The rise of ‘YouTube celebrities’ – normally commentating within the mindless sphere of news and video commentary/regurgitation – is an outcome of this.

Rising narcissism and false egoism amongst the populace will be the downfall of both the users themselves and the movements they claim to support. Twitter has claimed a great multitude of current celebrities as consistent users. Indeed, not only does it allow the traditional celebrity worshipper to follow their spiritual kings and queens with greater vision than ever before, but the platform itself allows the followers to communicate on the same pedestal as the celebrities themselves. Through the usage of Twitter, they are ‘just like’ the celebrities they follow that also use it: an emulating mechanism. The greater ‘rewards’ of external public approval are given to those who give more of themselves up. The more exposed and less private one is, the more ‘famous’, ‘important’ and ‘valuable’ one is, supposedly.

What a wonderful situation this is for governments: that the popular culture of the time sees privacy and self-preservation as something outdated and ‘1.0’.  Indeed, it would almost seem as this cultural situation had been engineered, there having been brought into being so many great potentials for state control. What need do states now have for a secret police and their traditional actions; bugging, phone-tapping and stake outs, when what were private communications (thoughts, feelings and intentions) are so readily spat out into the public sphere? More and more we see almost instant arrests of people who merely say ‘controversial’ or ‘offensive’ things online. What a brilliant and fast tool for the state apparatus to strike at speech.

As we can see, the emancipatory potentials of communications technologies are practically nought, so long as the base philosophical values of the broad mass of people include the acceptance of ‘legitimate’ force and the acquiescence to heteronomy.

This entry was posted in Commentary, Politics, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Misleading Emancipatory Potential of Technology

  1. Alex Jones says:

    You raise good points. The reality of technology is it allows those in power the ability to control, monitor and manipulate their citizens. It is easier to allow a load of freedom fighters to express themselves on social networks by governments since they can watch them, identify them and take the whole load out at a whim.

  2. Pingback: They aren’t listening | Consentient

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