A public and non-commercial space
A man and a partition, Andrew Cranston, 2007
“Let’s grab all this new technology in our teeth once again and turn it into a bonanza for advertising.” These are the words of former Procter & Gamble CEO Edwin Artzt. Renowned for his business acumen, Artzt, always one to turn a profit, told his fellow captains of industry to aim their attention to something new, something unseen before, something that needed to be conquered.
The early Internet was certainly a different place. It seemed a time of unlimited potential, when the old barriers to communication and information were said to melt away like so much butter in the microwave. People would be linked in ways never seen before, all in a purely public and noncommercial space. Early analysts claimed that the old media conglomerates were going to be swept aside by a coming Digital Age. For those looking to the future, the Internet would be the democratic space since its underlying principle, the networked sharing of data, was inherently leveling, free, and transparent.
For many children of the 80s and 90s, myself included, this time would be beyond memory. But Robert W. McChesney remembers. His latest book, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy, looks at the development of the Internet, the initial befuddlement of media and telecomm firms at this seemingly uncommodifiable space, the eventual conquest of cyberspace, and how the original promise of the Internet has not only been subverted, but turned against the functioning of an open and democratic society.
For all the highly visible failings of American capitalism, which McChesney points out to the reader should she have slept through the past five years; the system itself is still very much a sacred cow. Indeed, so entwined is capitalism with American society that, to many, it is almost synonymous with democracy. In a time where corporations are legal persons and money is equated with free speech, it doesn’t take too far a leap to see the author’s point.