Digithurst And The Internet

Rather misleading, as there was no ‘Digithurst and the Internet’. The online experience was simulated but never implemented for real, perhaps out of fear of that ghost in the machine. So, from the bench at the side of the pitch, this is how I saw the game unfold.

One of the ‘what ifs’ of history imagines a world in which the Berlin Wall still stands. How would the Stasi operate in the social media age? Marx believed it was important to penetrate the façade of ‘the individual’ to its social roots; without doing so, the individual appears as a chaotic conception, an assembly of social relations. We are assuming, of course, some of those left in the Stasi after it downsized would be Marxists keen to bring their ideology to social networks. And the Stasi would downsize because, with everyone posting personal details on Facebook and Tweeting every thought and action, who needs 180,000 watchers and informers? The Stasi would still have to trawl through Gigabytes of timelines, but no doubt someone at Robotron would create a piece of software to watch over the population of the DDR, a Stasi bot to unravel that ‘chaotic conception.’ Would this mirror image of social media influence our attitude to Facebook and Twitter in the West?

During the forty years in which it spied on the population of East Germany, the Stasi collected a massive amount of data, all of it committed to paper and cumbersome to access. It was the fear the collection of information engendered, as much as the content of the files, that was used to terrorise the citizen. The suspicion that a colleague or member of your own family was an informer saw you self-censor your thoughts and actions. Today the social media user supplies personal information openly and willingly and has no qualms about other family members doing the same. Nor do they seem to care much about how the information is used, or even if it is accessible by the state and commercial organisations. Streams of consciousness committed to databases are available for deconstruction and analysis. The social media user has no way of knowing what information is extracted from their timeline, or who is extracting it. They could be betraying themselves, their friends and members of their family. Social media has become a mass surveillance tool and, despite living in a free and democratic society, we are never sure who is watching, or why …

… The dot-com crash came as something of a shock; obviously information wasn’t quite as friction-free as we had been led to believe. Content was expensive to manufacture and, even though it cost next to nothing to deliver, no one was consuming. Julie from Westminster Press was right and Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, was wrong. Except, unlike the demise of the Infobahn, rumours of the death of the Internet proved greatly exaggerated. Corporate America had seen the future and was determined to make it work. Accelerating time was the only way to revive a stagnating US economy. Between 2002 and 2008, banks, venture capitalists and corporations poured dollar bills into Internet companies almost as fast as Alan Greenspan could print them. Almost all the money in the world was spent persuading consumers to go online – not just to buy goods, but to consume information.

These days, time moves so fast we have lost track of it altogether. Social media has blurred the distinction between work and leisure time. Facebook is used as a business tool and for social interaction, advertising and delivering news. Tablets, smartphones and Wi-Fi in Starbucks have ended the concept of an eight-hour working day. We surrender so much of our time to networks that we are forced to use Amazon Prime to buy some of it back. Meanwhile, the volume of information we are expected to consume continues to grow. I wrote numerous articles on information overflow and the impact of virtualisation during those last two years at Digithurst, most ignored by a publishing industry which has since wandered blindly into the digital age.

The transience and brevity of social media is the Internet’s response to the growing volume of information we are expected to consume. We have the instantly disposable 140-character news story, and a compression of language so bizarre it makes you want to LOL. Text, which is too time consuming to translate into a concept, now takes second place to pictures and video; our thoughts have been replaced by moving images. Information has become addictive, a dopamine rush; the 21st century’s LSD. While we perceive it as mind expanding, taking us to a higher level of conscienceless, in reality it merely overloads our senses. Within this infosphere, increasingly removed from physical space and devoid of a coherent narrative, we are losing sight of reality and our sense of ‘self’. As with LSD, quite where the Internet trip ultimately takes us is unclear; perhaps the hedonistic immortality of Keith Richards, the enlightened worldview of Bob Dylan, or maybe the brain-fried demise of Syd Barratt.

... (Extracts from The Ghost in the Labyrinth by Peter Kruger)

Next chapter ...