Friday, 27 March 2009

Naked Tyrants

The web acts as both as messenger and message in its postulate that it is unassailably a positive influence. Censorship is the ugly "C" word today. If its audience is sanguine to this inextricable duality, it might wish to remind itself of more rigid historic precedents. Pravda comes to mind. Without question, there are some great services it provides such as data search and online shopping. But there are some unsightly shortcomings worth pointing out at a moment in time where unfettered individual expression has been responsible for creating seismic cracks in our economic and emotional well-being.

During a discussion with a blogging friend of mine, despite his unquestionable intellectual credentials, I characterised his output as "tabloid". I was immediately rebuffed. No its not he said, with a hint of indignance. It is comparatively highbrow. He illustrated his point by giving me contemporary examples of highly popular published content elsewhere.

I confess his blog is very well written, although in my defence it was not the style I was talking about. The problem is that on the web, where almost everyone can have a voice, the lowest common denominator in both global authorship and readership is headed to nought. This is a natural consequence of the falling cost of freedom of expression. As democratic rights broaden and the internet becomes ubiquitous, this cost moves to its natural floor which on the internet is situated somewhere below bargain basement.

By way of illustration compare the 10s of thousands of viewings of Gordon Brown’s politics channel versus the 100s of thousands of him picking his nose, both courtesy of YouTube.

Moreover, as the world adopts the so called liberating technologies of Facebook, YouTube, and Blogger, anonymity is increasingly becoming a historic relic; its demise championed by the burgeoning army of self-exposing amateur journalists blogging and videoing to their hearts content. Most professional journalists I know are atheists but in blogging they have a new religion to preach. It serves their search for nirvana through the elimination of privacy.

Furthermore, if we fall in with the wrong crowd, which through the reach of the net we must at some point, more of us may find we will trade the joys of freedom of individual expression for the cheap thrill of joining a popular mob, however objectively ugly, which is both ruled and rules by the views of this lowest common denominator.

The hyperlinked world also removes the luxury to reflect on the passage of our lives. We are too busy jumping around from one interesting fact to the immediate fulfilment, by proxy, of sexual urges. From having on asinine question answered to asking another which we could have answered ourselves had we just taken the time to think through the question. We have less time to formulate our own thoughts and to devote time to the people who give us the highest emotional fulfilment. Quantity has supplanted quality. As a defense, I am told quantity means variety and variety by that old cliché “is the spice of life” but what we have now is not variety; it is more akin to drudgery. Its like discovering nine out of ten lovers are, in fact, 300 pound monsters. And that on the internet is not just a metaphor. 

De Tocqueville may roll in his grave as we welcome back an exponentially larger “tyranny of the masses”. Of course the irony is not lost on me. I myself am a tyrant in voicing my self-edited worldview. Mostly unheard of course; as the naked tyrants are neither able to listen nor to care.

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