Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron’s essay “California Ideology,” published 25 years ago last month, proposed a label for the worldview that emerged from Silicon Valley at the time. The name didn’t stick, but the essay itself holds up very well-a myriad of innovations, not only as a snapshot of cyber utopianism in the 1990s, but also as a genealogy of its still valid influence on digital culture. Business cycle after waves and spins.
Barbrook and Cameron followed a series of otherwise irrelevant and opposite thoughts that converged on the valley. There was a slightly vintage New Left ideology. “Direct democracy within the electronic agora will inevitably overcome the enemies of businesses and bureaucrats.” But, as Einland imagined, there was also a very romantic belief in the free market. The technical determinism summarized in Marshall McLuhan’s slogan “The Media is the Message” was disturbing. This can be translated into a less diagonal but alliteration term, “communication creates consciousness.”
Barbrook and Cameron have identified a major blind spot in Silicon Valley’s worldview. It is the role of large-scale government funding in the creation of the Internet (and, in fact, in making parts of California habitable and much more difficult to urbanize). However, the ideology does not have to be consistent for it to work. In the 1990s, the road to the 21st century followed the fast path of unregulated innovation. This principle came into effect in effect a year after the advent of “Californian Ideology” in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. “The interactive computer service provider or user is information provided by another information content provider.”
After the turn of the century, looking back at the history of Section 230, the meaning of what Jeff Kosef calls the 26 words that created the Internet began to be recorded (Cornell University Press, 2019). “By providing platforms to users around the world, Internet companies are at risk of some users using these platforms in ways that violate the law, and are responsible for supporting and betting on their illegal activities. It’s possible, “says Kosseff. Section 230 has largely indemnified website and Internet service providers from proceedings regarding content created or shared by users. (The site or provider had to remove clearly illegal content, such as child pornography or a malicious breach of copyright protection, after being pointed out.)
Under Section 230, the technology industry has given a green light for developing platforms and applications for user-generated content. Without that protection, Kosseff wrote, “The Internet is just an electronic version of traditional newspapers and television stations, all words, photos and videos are provided by the company and there is little interaction between users.” ..
What happened to California’s ideology as a result of Section 230 is the focus of Adrian Durb’s “What’s Called Thinking: A Survey of Silicon Valley’s Intellectual Infrastructure” (FSG original). Doub, a professor of comparative literature and German studies at Stanford University, points to some of the same influences, especially Rand and McClurehan, but does not mention the analysis of Barbrook and Cameron a quarter century ago. (The lack of mention of the essay is probably not an oversight by Doub, rather than the result of Barbrook and Cameron’s insights long after the move to the common currency.)
Starting with the title of the book that gives Martin Heidegger’s “What” a nod and wink, he’s enthusiastic about Daub’s overall reflection on “how the changes Silicon Valley makes seem plausible and inevitable.” The tension of temptation is running. Is it called thinking? Philosophers regarded modernity as a nihilistic “forgetting of existence.” For innovators who are part of their business model, Daub writes that “fetish the novelty of the problem” that a particular device or app offers as a solution. “… rob the public of the analytical tools we provided earlier. Endure similar problems.”
New digital products are often praised for their ability to “confuse” the stable and painstaking practices of everyday life, such as calling a taxi, delivering food, or looking for a job. Economist Joseph Shumpter’s reference to the concept of “creative destruction” is called much more often than in the pre-Section 230 era. “Confusion is a big drama,” says Doub. “The claim that’things have certain logics, so things work for them to work’is not.” But the liberating sway of everyday life is more hype than prophecy. Is often. Beyond the turmoil, there is disappointment as well as forgetfulness. It gets especially serious around the promise of communication, expression and connection:
On the other hand, there is incredible potential when we suddenly connect to a much wider world in a way that seemed hopelessly futuristic even 20 years ago. And on the other hand, there is a feeling that we continue to ruin it, perhaps our communication media is full of such spam, Dick Picks, because we are somehow wrong. It is a piled up sespur that promotes the Nazis.
In this regard, Doub pays far more to McLuhan’s true importance in the era of user-generated culture than most commentary that once claimed that there was a resurgence of his influence. (It’s an episode of its own in the history of hype, probably for another day.) “[C]McLuhan’s willingness wasn’t just an equivalent of what the media was doing, “says Daub. “It was invalid and distracting.” The platform or app has become the focus of innovation and profitability. The content was created by someone who couldn’t code. User-generated content may be indistinguishable from machine-generated simulations. Not because the latter is very well designed, but because online “communication” is the equivalent of a conditional response. The hostile herds that make social media their home are not outliers: “It’s automation, the lack of specificity of their attacks is part of power play,” says Doub. “It’s a sense of coercion encapsulated in the infamous phrase” well, actually. ” They can’t literally help themselves. “
Daub evaluates from a geographically distant but culturally distant perspective that is closer to the Silicon Valley worldview. He is paving the way with stinging epigrams. For example, “Trolls are in control when you lose control”, or “Twitter seems to be willing to claim Tahrir Square, but the Nazis are someone else’s problem.” Of some tech industry Navel observations are done “to allow David Brooks to mourn about it.”
But what Tech calls Thinking is more than the sum of its aposegms. Much of that interest comes from Daub’s rapid measurement of the distance between marketing tools and the actual interests of ideas that have been translated into rough rationalization. (See, in particular, the page on Schumpter’s understanding of creative destruction and press kit knockoffs.) Meanwhile, I suspect he may have characterized aspects of the last decade or so. Same way. The idea that “chaos” is probably a good or even a matter of meaningful change seems to be a product of an already more naive era.
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