The Extinction Game (or “Saving the Internet from its Detractors”)
Posted by inspir3d on March 3, 2007
Recently the politics of fear have been directed towards the internet. It may have been by design or simply the result of flawed thinking, but whatever it is, the result is clear. By deliberately demonizing everything to do with the net, critics suggest in broad strokes that the internet is nothing more than predation, the devil incarnate – it’s a claim that, by highlighting the obvious, doesn’t take much imagination to shore up: the moral turpitude of porn, falsities in conspiracy theories, visceral posts from racists and a handful of cases involving deceit, not to mention the internet’s nature as “feral” or a “free for all.” It’s a scene that suggests we are all suddenly going to sink inexorably into a moral cesspit.
To suggest sex fiends, confidence tricksters, conspiracy theorists and hucksters exist in the internet is certainly a palpable truth – to even suggest that these elements constitute a threat to the young and will ultimately confuse, mislead and even prey on the unsuspecting is probable. But arguments which neither consider the good currency of the internet nor attempt to draw out a trade off or even cost/benefit calculation of the internet are nonsensical.
One reason accounting for this misalignment is there is no shortage of arm chair pontificators who are quite willing to play the part of inquisitor here. Take your pick – two bit reporters, obscure academics and even politicians are jumping on board the internet bashing bandwagon, never mind that these people hardly spend any time even attempting to acquaint themselves with the various attributes of the net – never mind that none of them even bother to blog. Even those who claim to do so, don’t venture beyond the apparently safety their rarified cloisters. These days like self-proclaimed end-of-the-world gurus, or UFO specialists, it doesn’t take very much to qualify as an internet critic or even garner a cachet of supporters. One simply needs a healthy dose of McCarthyism and a worn mantra that bears repeating.
By deliberately engaging in the politics of fear without considering the good currency in the internet, they demonstrate one of a few states of minds which continue to bother me no end (apart from asking myself how they even manage to tie their shoelaces, given the limits of their processing power). For one, when obliquely proposing the cure for this state of apparent chaos can only be brought forth by legislation, they don’t even realize they are doing more harm then good.
These commentators demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding for what actually constitutes much of the aggregation which makes up the internet scene: the apparent anarchy which currently exists in the net is merely an artifact of its infancy. It’s the same observable primordial phenomenon that once spawned life on this planet. All organisms eventually undergo a phase of rationalization before convalescing from a state of anarchy to hierarchy, the internet is no exception to this rule. The expanding melting pot of tacit knowledge, gossip and trivia that floats around electronically during its early days (and the evening is still very young) is not so different than the babble which once existed in tribal memory characterizing much of the dawn of mankind. Ultimately the exigencies of commerce will make it’s debut upon this haphazard world and give it a coherent form and direction.
It only requires the lateral train to figure out even the invention of the internet falls into this non linear model: originally conceived by academics to facilitate long distance communication, it was eventually adopted by the military as a communication tool, only to fragment into the private sphere with the demise of the cold war – ultimately invading even the individual sphere. In the course of that haphazard migration, it spawned a revolution that generated billions of dollars and created thousands of new jobs. Firms such Google, Youtube or even the evil empire in the guise of Microsoft, are simply the modern equivalent of momentous transitions from collective memory to one not so different from the first human attempts to inscribe words on clay and stone. It is simply a form of development and progress in the truest sense of the word.
However, to believe these transitions have evolved without any social cost in the form of having to accommodate the bad currency, in the hope that the good will eventually prevail, is naïve. In truth much or all of the developments we see these days in the internet never once emerged from the school of linearity or from centralized planning in the guise of command and control. Instead, they were driven by accidental forays primarily by individuals who didn’t even have the basic skillsets associated with management or anything remotely to do with entrepreneurship. Rather much of the innovation was driven by human curiosity and ingenuity by leveraging specifically on “creativity.”
This naturally throws out the question: what is the cost to creativity, if the internet is eventually regulated? What is the cost? Yes, I asked it twice, it bears repeating only because it remains obvious to me that these serious questions have neither been fully trashed out nor even given a perfunctory moot beyond the superficial by either policy makers or those who continue to delude themselves that there are no penalties associated with regulating the internet. Otherwise why do policy makers continue to disparage the internet by relegating it to the domain of the feral and irrelevant? Why does the MSM continue to hold only an unimaginative impression of the internet by stoically labeling it as a “dangerous” place that should be avoided at all cost?
That sort of myopic logic only holds true if one subscribes to the belief that everything must necessarily conform to the law of linearity and we no longer live so much in a world of implications and consequences as we do in a world where we are able to control and manage everything. It’s a corrosive view, one that is not only fundamentally flawed, but breeds a righteousness not dissimilar to the ills brought forth by the US inspired war against terror – that if one examines at its core, attempts to justify very complex problems through a process of simplification by alluding itself to the fantasy, there are no penalties associated with the war against terror.
Many who blindly support this flawed metaphor fail to recognize the visceral cost that it has in retarding creativity, namely managing intellectual capital on a national level. While all remain unanimous, the threat of terrorism can never be taken lightly. The decision nexus to impose draconian restrictions on the free flow of human capital signals a profound failure on the part of US policy makers to understand what’s required to maintain an atmosphere of innovation.
Ideas do not grow on trees, neither are they mined like minerals. Great ideas emerge from the bedrock of creativity; they come from people. People commit a line on a piece of paper to design a plane or a microwave oven; people flesh out the marketing manifesto by starting businesses; people are process owners that see ideas through from the realm of theory through to reality. And good ideas can only emerge from people who are allowed to exercise human ingenuity through experimentation by trial and error – it’s one that transforms creativity into a strategic asset that is as important as land, water or any other commodity that gives a nation a competitive edge.
Policy makers failed to comprehend the link between people, creativity and the consequences of their actions as in the American experience – by failing to ask themselves what the true cost of keeping America safe is. By the same token the same question can be asked: what is the true cost of regulating the Singaporean internet scene?
In the case of the US the cost of keeping her safe through overzealous regulation of the movement of human capital has led to labor squeezes and chronic shortages in skills to effectively support the American economy. It’s a cost that casts long and disturbing shadows on America’s looming creativity crisis, and will take years to pan out. These things don’t show up till much later. This cost will ultimately threaten the supremacy of US technological innovation – unlike minerals that can be hoarded or warehouses that can be substituted, human capital or how it may choose to behave under a given set of circumstances is not so easy to predict.
Humans carry with them an anagram of who, why and how, which continually compels them to redefine themselves against the known world. Any policy that is designed to regulate behaviorism needs to appreciate these long term complexities. Social eugenics programs such as regulating population growth may be all too easily launched such as “two is company, three is a crowd,” but reversing their long term effects from the anagrams of humans is almost impossible. Similarly, tinkering with strategic assets such as creativity or even something as basic as language carries its own set of implications. When nationalism during the early 80’s led to a reformation of the education system that promoted Bahasa Malaysia at the expense of standard English, the Malaysians gave birth to the generation of the confounded.
My point is simply this: like the war against terror, or the social eugenics program we once carried out, policies would benefit greatly by calculating the trade offs between current security and long-run commercial competitiveness. This means a trade off analysis needs to be undertaken to consider the level at which the bad currency in the internet poses a danger to the individual and the state, against the good currency and how creativity can be nourished by leaving it alone. It’s an approach that attempts to bring in rationality into the whole internet debate, by proposing a calculus that recognizes the strategic importance of creativity.
To say that blogging has no commercial value beyond sustaining a underground culture where a free for all is allowed to run wild is for the moment true, this I do not dispute (only because it is futile to reinforce failure). But to continue to insist it will remain this way against the technological changes that are sweeping the internet just demonstrates a serious lack of understanding for what is required to manage change. Even if the sum of all Mr Brown’s satires or Yawning Bread’s lamentations about how gays have been down trodden do not amount to very much beyond casual reading and have little immediate practical value or influence, it would be absurd to dismiss them all as irrelevant, just as it would have been to dismiss the Wright brothers when they observed fitches in mid autumn flights or even to dismiss Kant’s project for perpetual peace as irrelevant to the world of Napoleon.
The utilitarian calculus of only wanting to see what one wants to see, instead of perceiving events and phenomena for what they really are and what potential they may hold continues to be a travesty of rational reasoning. It is one that denies the possibility that even the simple act of blogging will one day yield the promise of a new hope, where jobs and revenue can be created by specifically leveraging on the power of creativity. It is one that makes me shake my head no end when I read as I do continually, about the one dimensional accounts of why the internet is predation. From where I stand, the internet still holds out the hope of salvation for millions.
It is time for a new compact to define not only the role of the MSM alongside the blogosphere, but also how bloggers may one day sit alongside the long bench with policy makers and pontificators, and where all agree this is where creativity resides and it is a strategic asset that must be nurtured, nourished and above all left alone. It is time. Otherwise we may just end up studying shadows against the wall somewhere in the distant future mulling over the prospects of why we didn’t ask the question that needed asking. And with these words, we might as well play the role of the last man standing as his voice filters through the darkness,
“Is anyone there? Please. Is anyone there?” If we are not careful, we may just find ourselves playing the extinction game.
(By Darkness / Science / Internet / EP 9938292 / 2007 / The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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