Internet Continues to Change the World
By Staff News & Analysis - September 16, 2010

China's public opinion gap: Chinese youth are starting to mistrust Beijing Economic success has kept China calm and public opinion high. But trust in government is eroding just as demands on Beijing for more political rights are likely to rise. Rising suspicion of government may be a function of increased access to sources of information on the Internet. One expert says that as one's Internet use goes up, one's belief that government needs no oversight goes down … One recent evening, a 20-something Chinese woman was watching the TV news here with her mother. A spokesman for the Health Ministry was denying allegations that contaminated milk powder had caused premature sexual development in baby Chinese girls, and reassuring viewers government tests found the powder safe. "That's a relief," said the mother. Her daughter reacted differently. "What do you mean?" she asked. "If the government says it's safe, that's a good enough reason to think it probably isn't." – Christian Science Monitor

Dominant Social Theme: China's authoritarianism begins to become undone, thanks to the Internet.

Free-Market Analysis: This is a strange story for the mainstream media to carry. We don't see any promotion here, not even a dominant social theme necessarily – as we believe the above-excerpted article provides us with a fairly clear recitation of what is actually occurring, and not just in China. In China as in Europe and the United States, the Internet is a trigger for big changes in the way people perceive of their lives and the structure of governance itself. Sometimes, as we have written before, a rose is just a rose, and a report (even a mainstream one) is just a report. This story in our view is relating a factual observation that we find credible.

Of course, we are partial to partial to seeing history from the perspective of the advancement of communication technologies. We think this is a very reasonable way to look at history because human beings are essentially communicative animals with a kind of metaphorical compulsion. Nothing is what it seems for "naked apes" such as ourselves. Everything is seen through the distortive and often poetic license of metaphor. (Black is white; war is peace; sex is money, etc.) Those who tell the best and most compelling stories using the best and most resonant technology are the ones that best control society.

Occasionally, in human events, a new communication technology arises that changes life. We can see it first in the Cro-Magnon cave paintings of some 20,000 years ago. It turns out that many of the most elaborate animal paintings are in fact calendars and that the calendars themselves may be related to female-group fertility. Thus, we immediately have the conflation of a major communication's breakthrough (cave-painting) with a larger sociopolitical agenda, in this case having to do with the expansion of the species.

The Cro-Magnon, in particular, were likely in competition, outright or not, with other human species such as the Neanderthal. One can argue that the great calendar-centric cave paintings with their Shamanistic emphasis on life's abundance involved ways of organizing mating that would result in the most conceptions over time. Thus we can speculate (as observers have, academic or otherwise) right from the start that communication (painting in this case) for "naked apes" immediately assumed dimensions far beyond the mere decorative.

There were other great communication advancements of course. The invention of papyrus, and of ink, and then of hand-crafted books. The Gutenberg press is perhaps the most significant communications' technology to present itself before the advent of the Internet. Curiously, other modern technologies such as radio and television were less transformative in our view than the Internet, which is truly a major advancement – at once broad-band and intimate, capable of reaching millions with detailed information of the most minute kind.

These then are the building blocks of history: the ability to provide a cogent narrative and the technology to do so. From the very beginning of recorded history, technology has been utilized to control the environment and how the human species related to that environment. It is no coincidence that the Gutenberg press spawned first the Renaissance and then the Reformation, with all that came thereafter, including the population of the New World.

It is noteworthy that academic history does not generally offer the kind of analysis that we have just presented above. The elites have never apparently been keen on providing this sort of perspective. Instead there have been many other interpretations of how history works, chief among them the "great man" theory of history. In this variant, an Alexander or a Napoleon arises almost independently of the culture surrounding him and reshapes the world, often through the force of arms. Of course, if one peers behind the facade, one usually finds the machinations of the elite in both promoting and manipulating the supposed great man. But we would argue that those who emphasize Money Power still have not looked deeply enough.

At its deepest level, as we indicated above, those who are able to marry their narratives to the extant communication's technology are the ones who will inevitably control society. But there are intervals (such as this one) when the technology itself shifts and the control that has been seamlessly exercised by a particular elite is suddenly shattered. Such episodes are rare in human history but they are convulsive.

It is difficult to put into words the effect that a major communications revolution has on the species. Much of what takes place in the human environment happens below the surface of people's consciousness because much of the "programming" of naked apes is evolutionary in our view. It is nearly impossible to fully chart the interrelationships of a massive communications shift and people's programmatic ability to react to it. There is something otherworldly about it. In a sense, one could speculate that the very appearance of the Internet has galvanized a psychological shift.

We are not mystics here at the Bell. But we have maintained all along, for over a decade now in fact on various venues (since it occurred to our modest-sized brains) that the Internet itself was a transformative device at a fundamental level. The Internet is a process, which is what makes it so hard to anticipate. The Anglo-American's arsenal has been built around episodic damage control, but the Internet is not episodic. This is a main reason why "controlling" the Internet at this point in time is fairly futile in our view.

After Thoughts

Human beings (we would propose) will inevitably exploit a new communications technology to the fullest before it can be brought under control. Thus the taming of the Internet will not likely happen in this generation – and it has nothing to do with legislation or Money Power and everything to do with the way naked apes relate to technology. How else to explain the changes being wrought by the Internet in China – where a billion-dollar firewall is supposed to have "controlled" the sociopolitical impact of the 'Net? No, there is something going on at a fundamental level that neither the mainstream media nor the alternative media have fully captured yet.

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