Anarchy in the UK… but mostly on the Internet
The word ‘anarchy’ instantly has a stigma attached to it. Having negative connotations, it makes us think of disorder, chaos and an out-of-control society purely because of the absence of a government or controlling authority (or that legendary song by the Sex Pistols). But what about anarchy on the Internet and furthermore, cyberspace?
Bruce Sterling (1992) wrote that people want to be ‘on the Internet’ because they want ‘simple freedom’. Freedom to do what, exactly? Sterling basically defined the four major uses of the internet as; mail, discussion groups, long-distance computing and file transfers.
Interestingly enough, since Sterling’s A Short History of the Internet publication in 1992, not much has really changed. These four functions have merely progressed on a much wider and deeper scale. We use the Internet primarily to communicate with people, often with people over long distances even more than with people who are within close proximity. Think of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram- we are sharing files; pictures, music, links, information with anyone and everyone on the Internet, and most of the time, especially as part of generation Y, we don’t even have a particular audience. We simply project things out into the wide open for anyone and everyone to see, like, and comment on. In these activities, we have time and time again ticked off the four uses Sterling mentions- file transfers, mail, long-distance communication and discussion groups.
One use of the Internet Sterling did not mention, but probably did not doubt, is ‘prod-using’- users of the Internet who produce and create their own information, files and material to post and share on the Internet for everyone in cyberspace to see (making these people ‘produsers’). Finally, humans had created and discovered a medium and media outlet that allows our opinion and thoughts, our feedback and talk back to be just as important if not even more important than news itself. While we see and hear shocking news everyday across the globe, it seems attention on cyberspace is divided between the news provided my credited media sources, as well as people’s reactions to it.
For instance, after the tragic MH370 incident where a plane carrying 227 people vanished into thin air and still hasn’t been located today, the citizens of cyberspace reacted in a range of weird and wonderful ways to the news. A main reaction was people producing their own story in response. Conspiracy theories started popping up everywhere; some said it was a promo for the new Godzilla movie, others were certain it was aliens, many blamed the CIA and others were adamant it was an attack of terrorism.
We are at the stage where we have the freedom to post, share, say and do almost anything and everything on the Internet. Think of James on USENET in Lessig’s (2006) article. We, users of the Internet and citizens of cyberspace, are contributing to the anarchy that is the Internet. While this may sound terrible, it is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sterling drew a wonderful comparison between the Internet and the English language and how anarchy played out.
“Nobody rents English, and nobody owns English. As an English-speaking person, it’s up to you to learn how to speak English properly and make whatever use you please of it… Otherwise, everybody just sort of pitches in, and somehow the thing evolves on its own, and somehow turns out workable…”English” as an institution is public property, a public good. Much the same goes for the Internet. Would English be improved if the “The English Language, Inc.” had a board of directors and a chief executive officer, or a President and a Congress? There’d probably be a lot fewer new words in English, and a lot fewer new ideas.”
For all of the gruesome, disturbing and troubling things that can be found on the Internet, there are just as many amazing things to discover. Exposure to injustice has been one of the most extraordinary things to come out of the internet.
To finish off with one more of Sterling’s great quotes, “the Internet is an institution that resists institutionalisation”, and I think that is wonderful.
Lessig, L 2006, “Four puzzles from cyber space”, L. Lessig Code Version 2.0.
Sterling, B 1992, “A Short History of the Internet”, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.