Another Internet is Possible

Estimated reading time: 1 minutes — Promised utopia, we got moronic videos to sell crap. Another Internet is possible! Must The Internet serve commodity culture like all media before it?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes —

Another Internet is Possible: photo of Vanessa Blaylock wearing a Creative Commons t-shirt and operating a DJ console. Typography over the image reads "Another Internet is Possible." The image is caste in the warm tones of gelled, theatrical, tungsten lights. The typography is white lettering in the House Industries typeface Burbank: Condensed, Thin, and fairly tall.

The Internet is Already Dead

Another Internet is Possible? I was thinking about The Walt Disney Company today. Yes, I was actually putting myself through the terms of The Mickey Mouse Protection Act (The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act) one more time. It is 15 year since Sonny Bono, but not actually 15 years for me, since I didn’t know jack about Cultural Creativity back then. (some people call “Cultural Creativity” “Intellectual Property.” I refuse to use this term. It’s an oxymoron: if it’s intellectual, it isn’t property.)

I met Jon Phillips in June 2007.

5 months later I met Richard Stallman.

Today almost everything I believe about culture and creativity is different. I was a different person in 2006. Smarter people have suffered for 15 years. But I’ve only been informed enough to realize I was suffering for 6 years.

Companies like Disney and Apple would like to plant us in fish bowls of stale, if fragrant, water. Companies like Facebook and AT&T will even let us pick our own food. But they still want us to stay in their fish bowl. Google is an imperfect company, but why quibble about a few pseudonyms on Google+? More than any of these other corporations, Google’s world view is pretty close to my own. Google wants a massive, fast, transcontinental highway system. They don’t want it limited by any fishbowl. They’d love for it to take me anywhere I can dream of. Google just wants to put gas stations on all the on-ramps.

LET GOOGLE HAVE THEIR GAS STATIONS!

With Google, like most of the other players, we don’t pay them. We aren’t the customers. We are their data. We are their product. What if we could pay €5 / month for Facebook or Google or whatever? And have “privacy” and “freedom” and stuff like that? A handful of intellectuals might like that, but the masses have spoken:

We don’t give a crap about freedom.
We will pay any price for free.

Want proof? Look at Christophe Bruno’s Google Adwords Happening. Another Internet is possible: screen cap of Christophe Bruno's Google Adwords data table from 2002. In this table Bruno shows the costs for different words on google adwords. For example "Free" is US$7,000 / day. "Freedom" is US$2/day.This is a remarkable work with many interesting aspects. Let’s just focus on his chart of the prices of various words on Google Adwords. Of the words he priced in 2002, you’ll see that “Free” is the single-most expensive word on the list. If you want “free,” it’s going to cost you US$7,569.23 / day! By contrast, “Freedom” is one of the least wanted, cheapest words on the net. If anybody cares, “freedom” barely costs more than “communism,” “hemorroid,” and “net art.” “Freedom” is cheap. Just US$1.88 / day.

“Free” is worth 4,000 times more than “Freedom.” We value “Free” 4,000 times more than we value “Freedom.” Another Internet is possible? Richard Stallman said free beer is nice, but free speech is essential to our very way of life. He won both my head and my heart with that. But. As an observation on human culture he was wrong.

We don’t give a crap about freedom.
We will pay any price for free.

For me Google is a better answer than the other players. Does Google get us to Another Internet is Possible? Google is still commodities. Still consumption. Here in the West we love to laugh at the naivete of people in Communist countries like China and Cuba with their “workers unite” propaganda billboards. Maybe those billboards are a lie. But at least they’re dreaming of something. Is replacing them with “Drink Coke” really better?

Another Internet is Possible

And by “Another Internet is Possible,” I mean the Internet we were promised in the first place. Dreamers always see media innovations as cultural booms that will change the world. Then they get colonized by commodity culture. Share knowledge and ideas? Or just a tool to sell sugar-water. Instead of a tool to educate the masses, television becomes the new opiate of the masses. When radio was invented people predicted there would never be another war! Now that everyone can talk to everyone they reasoned that war would be obsolete. From telegraph and telephone, to newspapers and magazine, to radio and television, to the Internet and Mobile, Utopian dreams are replaced by platforms for selling. Everything in service of commodities. Even the shopping mall itself was a Utopian dream. In Victor Gruen’s vision the shops were part of a full-fledged community including medical facilities, schools, parks, lakes. Somehow the shops got built and the other parts never did. Gruen’s architecture changed the 20th century. But he returned from the United States to Austria feeling something of a failure.

TV Promise: Educate the masses
TV Reality: Opiate of the masses, sell sugar water
Mall Promise: New kind of community
Mall Reality: Tons of shops to sell crap
Internet Promise: Shared knowledge and ideas for the world
Internet Reality: Moronic videos to sell crap

See a theme?

Another Internet is Possible! I swear! Or I’m pretty sure. Or I hope.

So “we” don’t want freedom. “We” like our commodity culture just fine. Who is we? There are over 2 billion wired humans today. If 1/10th of 1% want something else, that’s 2 million people who believe another Internet is possible. In a world where the goal of everything is to get 1 billion users just like Facebook, 2 million is barely a beta test. But do “we” really need that kind of scale? I’ll never speak to 2 million people in my life. It’s a vast number! It’s more people than my imaginary cultural tropical island needs to sustain itself.

What if there was an Internet about ideas instead of commerce? What if there was an Internet about community instead of commodity?
 

L i n k y . L i n k y

• Wikipedia / Jon Phillips
• Website / Richard Stallman
• Website / Christophe Bruno
• Wikipedia / Victor Gruen
• Blog / Susan Crawford
• Blog / Douglas Rushkoff
• Tumblr / Lawrence Lessig
• Tumblr / Virginia Heffernan
• Sam Green / Utopia in Four Movements
• Jonathan Zittrain / The Future of The Internet and how to stop it
• Website / Tim Wu

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5 Responses to “Another Internet is Possible”

  1. apmel
    2013/07/16 at 21:54 #

    I noticed that sex got more clicks per day than free but more importantly that love got about the same amount of clicks as art.

    • Vanessa Blaylock
      2013/07/16 at 22:09 #

      haha, good eye Apmel! “Free” really kills “Freedom.” While less dramatic “Sex” does beat “Love” by quite a bit. I suppose you might explain that by saying that peeps are more likely to web search for a quasi tangible thing like “sex” vs a more abstract thing like “love.”

      Are you familiar with Bruno’s “Google Adwords Happening”? It’s a remarkable piece. I’ve just presented part of it here. He actually bought adwords for a while, and instead of delivering ads for products he’d deliver things like a poem instead. Once Google caught on to him he was kicked off adwords. Apparently it’s against Google policy to use their service for things like “art,” if you aren’t selling something you aren’t welcome.

      http://www.iterature.com/adwords/

  2. PeepSideshow Darkward
    2013/07/21 at 01:30 #

    I’m shocked that “hemorroid” gets the fewest clicks per day, considering how many assholes there are on the internet 😉

    • Vanessa Blaylock
      2013/07/22 at 17:13 #

      OMG, only *Y*O*U* would notice that! How’s your weenie roast going? Cute apron, BTW! 😛

      • PeepSideshow Darkward
        2013/07/22 at 20:08 #

        Weenies are well roasted to the point of being shriveled, I’m afraid! 😉