The Invention of the Internet: How might technology be embued with neoliberalism?


via xkcd

(click for larger image)

Looking at how the internet was invented may allow us to see its intended uses and the kinds of interactions it was initially designed to facilitate. According to Internet History, the story goes like this:

In the 1950s, the USSR launched Sputnik, a satellite that essentially has the function of communicating information. The US, as was typical of the Cold War era, in turn decided that they would need to build something better and more powerful than what the Russians had built, essentially as insurance against some kind of satellite related, space-based nuclear attack. In response to this, some Americans created a communications-based network which roughly approximates what we would today call the internet.

In the 1960’s one American in particular, Marshall McLuhan ‘foresaw’ that the internet could be used as something of a ‘global village’. He likened the connectivity of the internet with a central nervous system, with many nodes in which one could connect to others. He wrote:

Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.

When you are a node in a network, a certain level individualisation can take place. If you’re a node connected to different people with a different set of contacts to anyone else, then it begs to be acknowledged that, to some extent, you are distinct from other people. Individualisation is very much a neoliberal process, as I touch on here.

Further, corporatisation has made it so that computers are now objects that some people in the world are now realistically able to consume. Computers and similar devices continue to develop up to the point where I can actually carry the internet around with me everywhere through my iPhone. But notice the word ‘develop’ there? That’s very culturally specific, and neoliberalism is definitely based on the ides that everyone’s life improves through economic investment and entrepreneurship. The rate at which things are changing is a ground for neoliberalism to actually thrive in the midst of corporate interests and people’s willingness to buy stuff. And although I’m personally quite happy with this (I can barely imagine life without the internet), this is an idea that we definitely want to look at closely and be critical of. How much does ‘development’ improve our lives? What do we pay (in a non-monetary sense of the word) in order to experience these technological changes? Additionally, how does the gadget and computer industry effect the way we live, and how much does it merely reflect the ideas of a few dominant philosophers and politicians who have sung the praises of neoliberalism in the past? Are we putting those political and philosophical ideas upon other people from different cultures?

(That last question will be explored a little more in depth in my next post)

One Response

  1. […] concept of individualisation is touched on in my post about Facebook and I also explored it here. The internet was invented with the point of having people connect to each other in networks. […]

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