This morning’s Observer column.
In Morozov’s view, something similar has happened to the internet. It’s no longer a place for strolling – it’s a place for getting things done. “Hardly anyone ‘surfs’ the web any more.” Mobile apps, which bypass most of the internet, make cyberflânerie less likely. And much of today’s online activity revolves around shopping. “Strolling through Groupon isn’t as much fun as strolling through an arcade, online or off.”
So Amazon is the equivalent of La Samaritaine – a place you go to buy stuff. And Facebook? Ah well, says Morozov, Zuckerberg wants to wipe out the individualism that was at the heart of flânerie. He wants everything to be “social”. “Do you want to go to the movies by yourself,” he asked recently, “or do you want to go to the movies with your friends?” His answer: “You want to go with your friends.” My answer: I’ll go by myself, thank you. But then I’m so 19th century.
He starts off the column itself by pointing out how the crowd as an entity is taking over from the primacy of the individual as was once conceived:
David Weinberger has a new book out entitled Too Big to Know in which he argues that one of the implications of a comprehensively networked society is that the nature of knowledge itself is changing. “As knowledge becomes networked,” he writes, “the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it… Knowledge is becoming inextricable from – literally unthinkable without – the network that enables it.”
And it certainly seems that the world as conceptualised by these virtual forces understands far better the importance of locating individuals in a social context than our politics currently allows itself.
In fact, I’ve always wondered how it’s possible for all these massive corporations to understand so clearly the importance of defining society in terms of its socialising aspects – from multi-player video games to ready-made party food, from family visits to the cinema to home DVD hangouts in front of that brand-new flat-screen 3D TV – and yet, when they choose where to direct their lobbying dollars, so often they choose to support the libertarian and individualist side of the argument.
Whilst we see in the attacks on the National Health Service – and other institutions of statist generosity – our very pragmatic British socialism disappearing from our eyes, in the relationship we have with the Internet – and all its works (that is to say, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google) – that very same pragmatism seems to be returning in leaps and bounds. And this time, not at the hands of the political benefactors and thinkers of old but – rather – through the actions of our erstwhile enemies, those “evil” industrialists.
Does this then mean that “Big Money” has discovered socialism as the most monetisable matter of the early 21st century?
Strange stuff which I still haven’t been able to think through. But, in a way, it does cheer me somewhat in these desperate times: at least some form of socialism, in a virtual context if no other, will manage to maintain its honourable head above water.
Even if this does mean that in order to sustain it, we must give up its reins to foreign powers …
Further reading: this coming weekend I’m attending the Netroots event in Manchester. You can find out more about what’s going to happen over at Liberal Conspiracy this morning. An opportunity to sustain real world socialism from the virtual ranks? I do hope this might be the case – and will definitely be reporting back next week on my perceptions.