Friday, July 06, 2018

Timothy Snyder - Is the Internet Making Us All a Bit Fascist?

Historian Timothy Snyder contends that the Gutenberg printing press was to the 15th century what the internet is to the 21st - a hugely disruptive force. And, just as the printing press transformed society of that day, leading to enormously destructive and protracted wars, so too is the internet changing us in our era, even making most of us just a little bit fascist.


Gyor said...

Actually the irony is, perhaps as a reaction to this very influence I've become a lot more libertarian, especially culturally then I was, seeing how destructive even tolerant intending people have because, to the point of betraying the very principles they say they support.

Like years ago I supported censoring none violent hate speech, but no longer, as it's far to easy to abuse such a rule, too many thinks get called hate speech that aren't hate speech at all, debate gets shut down, resentment builds, and movements like the Alt Right appear, and rightwing governments like Trump and Doug Ford get elected to give voice to growing frustration with PC being abused by intersectional feminists to silence any and all objections to even mild stuff, like opposing compelled speech.

As someone who does not support centrism because it's lack vision, this particular cultural polarization has become toxic and is fueled by growing rage on all sides.

Toby said...

Snyder makes some thoughtful comments. Yes we should be more careful with how we (collectively) use the Internet. Will we? Well we haven't really done a great job with television.

Gutenberg's press was used to print books, political tracts and pornography. Media tends to be used by scoundrels as often as those with good intentions.

Oh, the Polaroid-Land camera became the tool of choice for amateurs to take naked pictures of each other until it was replaced by digital cameras and recently, smartphones.

It is going to take time to digest what Snyder says.

Anonymous said...

When a fella needs bookcases filled to the brim as a background to present his "case", I get suspicious that the arguments are weak and in need of props.
The opposite to Snyder's thesis is true. Internet freed us from the tyranny of the few. If democracy, free thinking and common sense is somehow now "fascist" according to a doublespeak, watch out for those few who wants to reclaim their previous influence.

The Mound of Sound said...

When someone comments under the cover of anonymity, I get suspicious that it's just another bullshit merchant. I read your comment. You confirm my theory. It's Friday night. Don't you have some White Power rally to attend?

Anonymous said...

Hurling insults in a civilized debate to debase the opponent is demeaning. Primarily to you, Mound.

Purple library guy said...

His points are interesting. One thing I notice, though, is that he frames his argument as being about "the internet" but it's actually not about "the internet" in a broad sense. Like, 25, 20 or even 10 years ago, "the internet" was quite structurally different and had different tendencies from "the internet" today. What he's talking about is a specific configuration of "the internet" that has come about very recently even in "internet time". That is, the internet in which dominant search engines remember you and your past searches and rearrange your search results based on what it is anticipated you will want to see. The internet in which huge portions of traffic are driven by Facebook, in which Facebook provides a great deal of informational content (not just stuff about people you know), and in which that content is driven by advertising revenue. The internet which is in general dominated by ad revenue and a small number of major, corporate-controlled, profit-driven, portals.

The old internet, the decentralized internet driven largely by things like non-profit educational institutions and hobbyists, had quite different characteristics. Not always positive characteristics, but different. I'm certainly nostalgic for it. However, it was probably inevitable in our society that the internet would become kind of like it now is--in a way I might argue that rather than being disruptive in any creative way, increasingly it is becoming a magnifying mirror to what our society already was. That is, media was already driven by corporate interests seeking profit from and distraction of the public, seeking to obscure the real world in favour of spectacle and so on; the internet has just allowed them to push it further.

Imagine if you will an internet in which the government banned ad revenue, offered free web hosting services to all, and financed media by giving every citizen a sort of "Patreon" account with an equal amount of money, which they could dedicate to whatever media sources they chose. I can't swear to what it would be like, but it would be very different.