Editorial: Your Revolution Is Not Unique

I prefer the pen to the fist as a symbol for revolution.

Oh, you folk are going to hate me for this. If you want to skip ahead, I summarize this entire article in one line at the end. Those of you willing to slog through this with me, thank you. I had initially planned to pepper this with pictures of boobs and cute puppies as motivators, but decided to trust the reader instead. Those who cannot keep up, can jump to the “TL;DR” summary at the end, the rest, I thank you for taking the time to read it since I took the time to write it. There’s a murmur going around right now. The mood is changing, nothing is the same, and the future has begun. The buzz words are giving me a headache. There has never been a time like this nor has there ever been a more serendipitous series of inventions and events as there are now, leading to world wide revolution. The enemy of a totalitarian government is knowledge, and in the age of the internet, we see everything, we know everything, and nothing will be the same again…

Let’s see if I can say this with a straight face. Facebook and Twitter are the two greatest social revolutionary tools ever created… Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my face. That was a much appreciated laugh. Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock, and likely half of those who have been, probably knows what’s going on in Egypt right now. Some will tell you that Tunisia lit the fire with its success. Others will tell you that it began with the earlier Iranian incident – and I’m safe in calling it an incident and not a revolution at this point – with twitter at its core. So dangerous, so frightening has the internet become to tyrants around the world that the first thing Egypt did to tamp down the noise was shut off access to the internet, the way Iran created a blackout for its citizens. Even China, in order to resist the memories of Tiananmen Square, began filtering all mention of Egypt from their internet surfing masses with their great firewall.

Get a job!

It would seem the internet has arrived; it’s all up in your tubes, exorcizing your demons. These incidents speak to a basic belief about the internet, that it is more revolution than gradual technological advancement. In fact we refer to it as “The Internet Revolution”. It changed everything didn’t it, changed commerce, gave birth to global business and now is proving its earliest proponents right and toppling governments in the inevitable path to making government unnecessary. There’s a word I use for claims like this and the claims of the proponents of a coming singularity. I call it ‘Anarchomanticism’. Allow me to explain. It’s just a marriage of the words anarchy and romanticism. There’s this romantic notion about the internet, this belief that it will or has changed everything and will usher a new age of personal freedoms. You hear phrases like “democratize information,” “you can’t stop the signal,” heck let’s throw in “hack the planet” for good measure. This whole attitude exposes two major conceits about human nature.

The first conceit is that we human beings think of ourselves, individually, as the blueprint of thought and behavior. We conflate what we want with what we think should or would happen. Every human being has a series of beliefs that they assign high valence to. In its simplest form, you can separate people as liberal and conservative, but it gets more complex than that. It goes beyond politics and into economics, religion, culture, and personality.  Rationally, we understand that everyone around us is different, but it’s human nature to interact with the world as though everything believes and behaves as we do. This makes something different both jarring and, against all logic, unexpected. But what this means on a macro scale is humanity, no matter how visionary, tend to be terribly myopic creatures, rarely able to see beyond its own narrative in its particular time period. This leads to the second great conceit.

Humanity, no matter how forward looking and hopeful of the future of advancement, always feels or at least acts like it’s living at the end of history. We are good at visualizing the future but are rarely ever correct in our projections. The reason for this is that at our core, we all feel like this, right now, is the most advanced we can get. To us, innovation is a past tense conversation and we only pay lip service to what comes after. In simple terms, as far as we’re concerned, the future changes everything, nothing will be the same again, but it doesn’t cross anyone’s mind that tomorrow morning something new could disrupt the internet and make it a quaint idea. I bet you have a hard time imagining what technology could disrupt the internet without resorting to quasi-technological magic. The internet is the result of a technological evolutionary march, one that was by no means inevitable but may only be just another step and not the destination.

This is my assertion: Facebook, Twitter and the internet did not spark this Egyptian or any other revolution. Furthermore, in the history of technological revolutions, the internet barely ranks as that revolutionary. There were others before and it’s a mistake to clump the mass of its adoption with its impact. This essay is a rebuke of the penny philosophers, the above mentioned Digital Anarchomatics. The internet is not the apex of revolutionary tools. Not only does it change nothing on a fundamental level, it has thus far had the smallest effect of other revolution, though in its defense, it hasn’t been around as long. The internet is to the way we operate now, what a pretty UI overlay is to Nokia’s Symbian operating system. It’s a pretty face or a fancy new look on something fairly shitty. That was a purposely bad analogy, I’m kidding around. The internet is a good thing and it is an advancement on something that has been immensely valuable and positive. I’m merely saying that changing the color scheme or appearance does nothing to change the fundamental nature of the thing beneath.

In the words of the brilliantly written Battlestar Galactica, all of this has happened before and will happen again. In fact, the Battlestar Galactica remake, for anyone on top of the premise, is the perfect analogy for what the internet is. I’m sorry my revolutionary brethren, there will always be need for government/governance and the internet will not change that. I’ll even go so far as to say you will demand governance and control and make it happen. In this case the revolutionary is the seed of the revolutions own destruction. The internet will and has changed the way we work, play, and govern, but you are sorely mistaken if you think it will undermine the power of existing authority and push governance out of the hands of governments. My final assertion is that the idea that nowadays every revolution is a social one is poppycock. Every revolution has always been a social one, that’s the nature of such things.

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