Tavernaris Essay

Sarah Tavernaris
October 15, 2009
ENGL 4874
Essay 1

Introduction
Many have dreamed of a better world for mankind—an orderly, fruitful existence free from chaos, misery, poverty, and other all too common social evils.
-Richard Fairfield, Communes, USA

The computer has revolutionized the way the modern world works: we can carry the world in our pockets with an iPhone. The free and immense amount of information and resources available at our fingertips makes our lives faster and easier to maintain… “Global media networks spatially enlarge society…and they reduce the size of the world” (van Dijk 159); Internet access opens up unlimited possibility and access to information; it is a haven of self-expression and community and can be “a force of democratic change” (Global Online Freedom Act). As a result of our diverse and complex world, we turn to collaboration to conduct research to deal with the problems we encounter, and the internet makes collaboration easier and more efficient. And as the “digital natives” start to inherit the world of the baby boomers, we will see a break from old ways of life as they lead the world into a digital future.

The internet is ideally viewed as a countercultural force of change and the global commodity that is the future of peaceful coexistence, collaboration, and freedom of sharing, which evolved from the ethics of counterculture in the 60s. Essentially, we have implemented McLuhan’s “global village”: vast, diverse communities exist online that share information and experience, increasing social mobility and “dissolving of boundaries between macro- and micro- levels of social life, between the public and the private sphere” (van Dijk 161). However, it is highly stratified because some parts of the world see the internet as a cultural threat, given “growth of the internet…can be a force for democratic change…” (Global Online Freedom Act). There is not a fair distribution of information. If digital is the way of the future, the current digital divide leaves developing nations far behind the industrialized world, further sharpening the disparity between social classes; yet changing this ideology of a nation is difficult since it is usually entrenched and a function of moral social customs.

Communes, Acid, and Internet Culture
…this amazing experiment in consciousness was going on, out on a frontier neither they nor anybody else had ever heard of before.
-Tom Wolfe, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

In From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner attributed 60s countercultural and communal values to establishing the values of the early internet and the world wide web. A commune is “collective, cooperative, an intentional community, an experimental community…the primary bond is some form of sharing” (Fairfield 1). Alternative communities have existed for centuries, yet they rose in popularity in the 1960s. Middle class youth felt estranged from society and the mentality of post-World War II America sought a way of life that emphasized community, sharing, and interconnectivity. They turned to communal life that satisfied them with a sense of belonging, collectivism, and less rigid power relations and more common decision-making. LSD and its consciousness-expanding properties also infused the 60s generation with a universal connection. LSD opened “the doors of perception” in the mind; users experienced intense feelings of interpersonal relations with strangers and the world. This mess of amateur psychedelic theorists dreamed of a non-hierarchical world of peace, abundance, sharing, and connection.

The acid culture movement was short-lived and many of the communes that had formed disbanded quickly—part of the reason the countercultural movement failed was because they sometimes took crazy drugs and acted like freaks, and America will never tolerate people who take drugs and act like freaks. The system subtly stresses homogeneity, and it’s difficult for alternative communities to survive. Some failed because they could no longer self-maintain, or group members lost interest and drifted back to society. Some lacked the adequate skills to support themselves; some failed because of strenuous leadership. Many failed for lack of leadership, which made policymaking tedious.

Although these communities are difficult to maintain in a non-communal world and often failed because of high ideals and human pettiness, similar tight-knit communities have formed online in an ambivalent, non-hierarchical structure: “the introduction of new media, in particular the internet with all its sites and discussion groups, has raised hopes for a recovery of community in electronic environments” (van Dijk 166). Communities exist and flourish online where there is free, accessible space for expression and information. This autonomous, alternate reality of the internet where information is free, people connect and share, and consciousness expands is easily traced back to its roots in 60s counterculture.

Evolving Culture
…A new age has actually begun to emerge…the world is now changing at superspeed and will never again be quite the same again.
-Joseph Pelton, e-Sphere

The internet is a luxury of convenience: it’s easier to maintain international business relations, network long distance friendships, manage schoolwork and hectic lives. Communicating is instant and easy. We are constantly in touch with and aware of the world as we begin to think of ourselves as participants in a global village, a term coined by Marshall McLuhan. Turner explains, “electronic technologies had begun to break down the barriers of bureaucracy…and so had brought human beings to the brink of a new age…electronic media had linked all of humanity into a single “global village” (53). Like the hippies who felt they were connected to the world, the digital natives are actually connected to the world through the use of the internet.

A digital environment is another environment in which a person can define themselves in and explore—it’s a world of anonymity, self-expression, and endless information. It’s our primary source of communication and “encyclopedia.” Most developed nations are connected or know how to get connected on a daily basis, so we center our lives on it. More and more we lead and upkeep digital lives and follow other’s digital lives—Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and YouTube play on our harmless voyeuristic tendencies, which explains their popularity. Although a person’s means of self-expression and independence online conversely provides the means by which he or she is controlled by the technology. “Big Brother” is always watching, because we live a digital footprint everywhere we go. Also, the extent a person spends immersed in the digital realm can have a negative effect on the psyche: “high internet use leads to social isolation and even loneliness or depression…leads to less real-life involvement…impoverishes social interactions” (van Dijk 167).

The internet functions as source of consciousness expansion when viewed as a method of social mobility. Social mobility is a sociological concept where an individual or group moves into a new situation and diverse, inter-group contacts arise; the more socially mobile an individual is, the more likely his or her normative ambiguity (the certainty of our moral codes) will fluctuate, thus altering deviance structures, which moderate our sense of right and wrong (Agnich) .

Diverse communities tend to function more efficiently since they are compiled of different knowledge and wisdom. James Surowiecki addresses the idea of the “wisdom of crowds,” or collective wisdom. His theory states that groups are collectively more intelligent than the individual, because the individuals in the group bring different expertise to the situation to create a more complete solution. He also addresses the diversity and complexity of the modern world: disciplines become increasingly specialized; global crises affect more and are harder to fix, thus the concept of the individual as the site of knowledge loses validity. “Today’s complex problem solving requires multiple perspectives. The days of Leonardo da Vinci are over” (Wenger qtd. in Surowiecki 162). In a world “changing at superspeed,” collaboration in research and business projects become essential, because it makes our knowledge more complete and we find solutions faster. The basic structure of the internet, with free, open communication practically demands collaboration. Pelton quotes,

"the key to the future is to recognize what our telecommunications, computer, and network-based systems are telling us about the future: we need to think together…The world of cyberspace is telling us that linked teams of people with a variety of educational backgrounds and cultural and geographic heritages can provide better and more profound answers than highly targeted and deeply focused research teams with a narrow or even a single disciplinary base" (13-14).

At the core of this push for online collaboration is a shift for change in power relations, from hierarchical to horizontal (15), values reminiscent of 60s communal life.

The Digital Divide
…In terms of accessibility and usage of the Internet, vast discrepancies exist both between and within countries. This is the “digital divide,” and nowhere is the digital divide more manifest than between the developed…and the developing…
-Jason P. Abbott, ed. The Political Economy of the Internet…

The arguments of this essay stress the ideal nature of the digital world and its roots, yet so far it has failed to address the reality of the digital divide. It is a vital element of the industrialized world, yet out of the nearly 7 billion people in the world, only about 1 billion are connected, and “highly dominated by males and by higher-income and educated people” (van Dijk 28). Not surprisingly, this disparity falls between developed and developing nations, and nations that enforce strict moral codes to maintain social order. Reporters Without Borders maintains and updates a list of nations considered “enemies of the internet:” as of 2009, it consists of 12 nations including China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

“The development of ICTs (information and communication technologies), and the internet in particular, is seen as presenting opportunities to alleviate poverty and spur economic growth…” (Abbott 3), therefore countries without access will become further marginalized and fall behind developed nations, widening the gap between grossly distinct world economic classes. There is not a fair distribution of this apparent “global commodity.” Laws regarding use and censorship vary greatly across cultures that are resistant to change and the liberal ideals of a digital world; poverty inhibits aspiring nations from implementation and maintenance.

The internet is “a global medium, supporting the flow of information around the world without regard for national borders” (Hrynyshyn 2); furthermore the United States government upholds digital

"freedom of speech… [as a] fundamental human right, and free flow of information is protected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom to receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers"

in the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007. This same document calls for developed nations to lead the way in creating free and equal internet access for all, in the push for solidifying our global village.

Conclusion

Digital is the way of the future, yet the digital world is stratified in the global community as most luxuries are; it is split between the haves and the have-nots, and the divide continues to grow. The digital realm has drastically changed how we communicate, relate, and collaborate. We can exercise control and be controlled.
Ideally, developed nations will not act out of self-interest and employ a system for digital communication in nations that lack one, in an effort to mobilize economies, as well as push for more equal and fair methods of use in nations with strict moral codes. However, the beautiful vision of a connected global village dreamt of by the hippies and actualized by the digital natives is far from reality. Some countries will require the reworking of entire social and moral infrastructures for change to happen, but it is not entirely futile to try working towards a networked society and a better world.

WORKS CITED:

Abbott, Jason P., ed. The Political Economy of the Internet in Asia and the Pacific. Westport: Praeger, 2004. Print.

Agnich, Laura. "Social Mobility and Rates of Drug Use." Sociology 4414. SURGE 104C, Blacksburg. 21 Sept. 2009. Lecture.

Fairfield, Richard. Communes, USA: A Personal Tour. Baltimore: Penguin Books Inc., 1972. Print.

Hrynyshyn, Derek. "Globalization, Nationality, and Commodification." New Media and Society 10.5 (2008): 751-70. Online.

Pelton, Joseph. E-Sphere. Westport: Quorum Books, 2000. Print.

Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Print.

Turner, Fred. From Counterculture to Cyberculture. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2006. Print.

USA. House of Representatives. Committee on Foreign Affairs. “Global Online Freedom Act of 2007.” 110th Congress, 1st session. 2007. Online.

Van Dijk, Jan. The Network Society. London: SAGE Publications, 2006.

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