Is The Internet Real? – November 2010 editorial

This month hasn’t been a particularly eventful month. There were no major international events that mobilized anarchist forces from around the globe. There hasn’t been a big conference or book fair where some scandal or revelation has occurred. There has been police repression across the globe but it has been mostly ignored. Instead there has been autogenerated controversy entirely on the Internet. This has been enabled by this site, especially as it reposts the outrages and asociality that happens other places. It has become an echo chamber and often times what it amplifies is embarrassing.

But is it real? If we were to categorize a range of real experiences—from those having the most impact on our life, health, sanity, and social well being—to those having the least impact, the Internet would sit somewhere between totally unreal and a little bit real. The web is a great place for getting information about events & groups, opinions from people who have a vested interest, and other either factual or specific purposes. I don’t believe it is a great place for conversation.

Just like “reality” the word “conversation” can mean many things. Clearly every day there are dozens of posts happening on the site. I happen to find this type of conversation—anonymous, context-less, and flippant (without trust)—more or less a waste of time to participate in. I choose to participate in conversation that is rich in context, between personalities, and developing levels of trust. I recognize that many anarchists don’t have that privilege. It is sad that we live in a time when sincere human relationships are considered a privilege and when what we have replaced them with is hostile and alienating.

This month we have posted a number of blogs, editorials, and rants that were—strictly speaking—news but also mean-spirited and nearly textbook definitions of ad hominem and bad faith arguments. Real people were impacted by these farces and this reminds us that the question of the reality of the Internet is still open.

Publishing has changed since the dawn of the Internet. We are no longer corresponding via post nor are we writing letters to the editor (although we are actually doing both, but at a pace ten, one hundred, one thousand times that of the days of yore). When it is so much easier to spray out words that can get read by others, then any manner of material is liable to get shared, without much attention to its impact. This has forced a lot of sites, in the name of community spirit, to require registration and terms of engagement. Some newspapers are requiring legal names (and credit card numbers to prove them) before you are allowed to post. Other sites require registration that at the very least requires mapping of a consistent identity to an email address.

Anarchist news is such an active community because of the lack of these restrictions but the consequence is clear. The Internet is not (particularly) real, as far as I am concerned, but people’s feelings really are hurt here and there are undeniable social consequences to some of the behavior on this site. We are mostly comrades here and that is worth considering before we hit the Submit button.

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