The problem I have with the Internet today is that, in the 1980s, I thought (hoped) that massive access to a) personal computing and b) networking would be a force that (slowly, perhaps, but inevitably over time) made us all smarter and kinder.

Instead I fear that networked computing is making us all dumber and crueller. And the dumbing and the cruelling is accelerating.

That's maybe too simplistic an analysis: it probably always had the potential to do both, and it probably *is* doing both.

But the "networkded computing = smart and kind" thing wasn't just me; it was a core part of what I now recognise as the "1980s California New Age" vision

a) computing making people smart was taken for granted: faster access to more information (ok), automatic evaluation/filtering of information (somewhat but filters can make things worse), automation allowing more high-level thinking (surprisingly not as much as expected)

b) networks making people *kind* was hybrid democracy/market theory...

...(of the kind that reveals just why Reagan conservatism appealed to 1980s Democrats, why cross-party vote-splitting, now unthinkable, was such a huge thing back then)

The theory was that "people are cruel because unhappy environments make them cruel: unhappy environments are the result of forced hierarchies; give people a choice to select their own friends and colleagues, and they'll vote with their feet, everyone will end up exactly where they feel happy, everyone will be kind to compete"

There were several ways that second vision failed; it's not totally wrong in itself, I think, but it missed how a) unhappy and cruel people can gravitate together by free choice, making each other more cruel (ie 4chan), b) freedom of association can be weaponised by infrastructure capitalists as a means of surveillance, control and lock-in (Amazon, Facebook), and c) freedom of choice is never absolute, and people can put up with a lot of cruelty in order to find a tiny quantum of kindness

@natecull I recently covered a 1985 "Computer Chronicles" episode dealing with the potential impact of computers in politics. George Morrow's closing comments from that program were sadly prophetic:


@chronrevisited @natecull A big realisation of mine about five or six years ago was that changes in media have huge effects on the societies in which they emerge, and always have.

Smartphones, Broadband, Dial-up Internet, the Web, cable TV, talk radio, FM radio, television, paperbacks, radio, cinema, telephone, phonograph, mass magazine publishing, telegraph, mass literacy, printing (and multiple revolutions there), papermaking, Arabic numerals, maths, writing, trigoonometry, mapmaking ...

The first hunter-gatherer tribes which worked out speech, basic logistics, maps, and military strategy (or agriculture) had huge advantages over those which hadn't. And it's compounded since.

Marshall McLuhan and Elizabeth Eisenstein especially develop this concept.

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