While Kevin Kelly’s optimism is rather refreshing, it is seems a bit idealistic, especially now that we are in 2011 rather than 2005. Yes, the internet grew exponentially despite the dot-com burst through the private interests of internet users, but these interests (at least now) are not altogether divorced from economic interests. A gift economy? Maybe partly, but now that anyone who starts a page can put up ads in order to generate profit, many more independent persons are starting up pages not only because of their particular interests, but also to generate profit. The internet is ridden with commercialization–it just appears as a non-appetizing side-dish (like cauliflower, or brussel sprouts, or soggy carrots) to websites that were built out of (mostly) love, as Kelly would say.
I would say, though, that Kelly’s ideas of freedom of sharing as the incentive for internet growth seems fairly accurate (and sharing often occurs through hyperlinks, as he noted–sharing information, books, music, etc.). Notions of property have completely changed for our generation; not long ago, to acquire a song or a book without paying for it (or having someone else pay for it and allow you to borrow it) would have been absurd. Now, the reverse is true. Pay for an album? I can get the music for free from a friend, off Youtube, or any other number of ways–many of which are illegal (torrents). But the illegality of it doesn’t really hit home for a lot of users; the rule, for some reason, doesn’t seem hard and fast.
Notions of illegality may fail to hold sway for contemporary internet users because of the very process and structure of the internet. If, as Kelly suggests, the very structure of the web is one of communal sharing, then we may be seeing the questioning and breakdown of ideas of property and copyright and finding these ideas arbitrary. This is where Peter Lurie’s ideas on the postmodern structure of the internet come into play. The very structure of the internet and process of navigating and using this “sharing commune” is breaking down these hard and fast rules based upon authoritative texts, like the Constitution.
So I can go with Lurie a bit there; however, I find the rest of his article somewhat off-putting because of some of his basic assumptions. First of all he seems to be conflating conservative politics with conservative religion, and while they tend to go hand in hand, there are actually Republicans who think the separation of church and state is still a good idea. Also, the major assumption of his article–that the structure of the internet as a postmodern product of Anglo-European, secular (“agnostic”) society will slowly work in the “left’s” favor–also assumes that structure cannot be re-appropriated. The ideology of the structure of a technology does not necessarily mean that the technology will inherently work in favor of that ideology alone. Note the rise of radical, Islamic neo-traditionalism (or as Michael Mann calls it, Islamic combat fundamentalism) in several Middle-Eastern states. This movement is in large part a reaction to U.S. and general Anglo-European colonialism, and Anglo-European (or “Western”) secularism and modernism. How is this movement spreading and being carried out? Through internet and new media–the very products of Anglo-European, modern, secular society. The internet, despite its postmodern “leftist” structure, is allowing the growth and spread of the type of movements that decry the very ideology behind this structure.
This is the power of mobilization that Trippi discusses–though obviously in an entirely different context. But interestingly, in an age that has seen the rise of globalism to create McLuhan’s “global village,” nationalism continues to spread and reign. Harnessing the internet for political campaigns may not only lift heavy layers of political apathy, but strengthen nationalism (or nationalisms–new media is changing politics in various nations). What I am curious to see is a change in the notion of American nationalism. It seems that currently, with some reactionary conservative and religious groups conflating patriotism and Christianity, nationalism is seen as conservative-religious ideal. There’s a “God bless America” (to be read with Tobey Keith in one’s head) ideal that’s been tossed around as the national idea, especially since the rise in national solidarity after September 11 (remember “boot in their ass” song?). Is this idea a product of the internet? How might the idea change now that people tire of this highly exclusionary, religious kind of patriotism? How might internet politics create this change?