The Internet Is Not Some Giant Living In The Hillside Coming Down To Visit The Townspeople


I’ve seen a bit of end-of-year commentary recently saying things along the line of “let’s take the internet back” “the internet in 2013 was awful” “in 2014 we fix the internet” etc. and it kind of baffles me because it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what the internet is, and exacerbates the very problems people want to address.

The internet is not the problem. Twitter is not the problem. They possibly don’t help the problems, as medium they are not passive etc. and they shape and form the messages transmitted, but in the end we’re the problem.

In the opening to his classic album “Black On Both Sides” Mos Def says the following:

People be askin me all the time
“Yo Mos, what’s gettin ready to happen with Hip-Hop?”
(Where do you think Hip-Hop is goin?)
I tell em, “You know what’s gonna happen with Hip-Hop?
Whatever’s happening with us”
If we smoked out, Hip-Hop is gonna be smoked out
If we doin alright, Hip-Hop is gonna be doin alright
People talk about Hip-Hop like it’s some giant livin in the hillside
Comin down to visit the townspeople
We are Hip-Hop
Me, you, everybody, we are Hip-Hop

I think you can use the exact same argument about “the internet”. “If we doin’ alright, the internet is gonna be doin’ alright”. If “the internet” seems like a shitty, broken place, it’s because the world is a shitty broken place. But the place to start fixing it, isn’t the network, it’s the nodes that make up the network. It’s us. Racism, misogyny, violence, hatred, are problems we have as people. They are not problems of the internet.

The network has problems itself; but again these problems are caused by the people on the network. It’s controlled by massive corporations and all watched over by state security agencies because we’re controlled by massive corporations and all watched over by state security agencies.

To say “let’s fix the internet in 2014” is to say “let’s fix human society in 2014”. That’s fine, that’s worthy, but it’s not easy and you have to remind yourself what the real problem is. And, like the network, I believe you can’t fix it until you start fixing the individual nodes. And that means ourselves.

“What’s gonna happen with hip-hop?
Whatever’s happening with us?”

Selfie-Hatred

In response to it being named as the Oxford Word of the Year, the Irish Times ran a piece today on the phenomenon of ‘selfies’ that in its vague emptiness sums up the silly furore over the word. The article argues that the ‘selfie’ is the most appropriate – or “depressing” – “symbol of the kind of society we have become” that “sums up our age of narcissism”. But Jennifer O’Connell never really explains how this act (of taking a picture of yourself) points to this grave social illness, or how the ‘selfie’ is in any way a new activity.

People, with the means, have been commissioning self-portraits of some manner for centuries. All that has changed is that the means to do so (and broadcast) have become readily available to the masses. If ‘selfies’ tell us anything, its that the means of production of self-portraiture have been acquired by all, not just the elite. That in itself might be interesting, but it shows us that the ‘narcissism’ (if it’s true) has always been there.

One of the ‘selfies’ described in the IT piece is of a family out at a meal who take a picture of themselves. That is a family picture at a meal. I assume it was a ‘selfie’ because one of the members of the family physically took the picture themselves? Had they handed the camera to a waiter to take they would be doing something that has never prompted a columnist to write about it before. But it seems the act of being in a picture, whether alone or with others, whilst also taking the picture, magically transforms it into the narcissistic ‘selfie’ – the act that ‘sums up our age’. This family portrait was “the perfect nuclear family for the age of ego.” When me and my family posed awkwardly with our nan in 1986 it was a cherished memory we were only talking about the other day. But this family in a pizza restaurant took a ‘selfie’, and we should sneer it as such.

The 1985 Philadelphia MOVE bombing

I heard about the Philadelphia MOVE bombing for the first time earlier this year when I saw the trailer for “Let The Fire Burn”, a new documentary about the incident. I couldn’t believe what the film was about, mainly because I couldn’t believe I had never heard of the event.

In 1985, following years of tension between the City of Philadelphia and a radical revolutionary “back to nature” group called MOVE, a stand off on a suburban street turned to mayhem when police dropped a bomb on the roof of MOVE’s house which that had refused to vacate, ultimately burning the house and the surrounding neighbourhood to the ground. In the end 11 MOVE members, including 6 children, were dead, and over 60 family homes in the neighbourhood were completely destroyed. Only 2 members (an adult woman and a child) survived.

MOVE are a fascinating group, essentially a cult based around a mysterious man, John Africa, who the members supported loyally. Whereas many people pay lip service to the environment and animal rights, MOVE walked the walk, to an extreme fashion, eating only raw veg, eschewing most technology (except, for instance, guns) and electricity. On paper, however, their way of life seemed quite positive. I have always been fascinated by cults, radical groups and communes, from Aum Shinrikyo, to the Weather Underground. (This weekend I also saw “The Source Family” about a 70s hippy commune, again orbiting around a central father figure)

It baffles me that MOVE isn’t more widely known. Maybe it is in the States, but given we live in such a US-centric, connected globe that this never took on the international infamy as say Waco is strange. But, then again, when you consider that the vast majority of MOVE’s members, and all who died, were African-American, sadly, maybe it isn’t that strange. To think that police forces dropped a bomb on civilians in order to end a siege seems unthinkable, but it happened.

While I wait for the film to get released here, I’ve started reading the book “Let It Burn” which the film is more or less based on. It’s been great so far, a matter-of-fact documenting of what led up to the inferno. I’ve also been soaking up everything I can find online about the MOVE standoff, including this 25th anniversary retrospective, and some interesting videos of a 1978 standoff that had resulted in the death of a police officer.