April 28, 2007

The Rise of Digital Utopianism: Implications for Analysis

Barlow, an information technology journalist and pundit, was also once a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Following an international summit in which the Communications Decency Act was passed, which sought to restrict pornography on the Internet, he crafted a treatise in defense of the independence of the Internet from bureaucratic attempts at regulation. This essay, which was posted and widely circulated on the Internet, suggested that the Internet allowed for the possibility of a social revolution. Barlow painted a picture of a world in which the oppressive forces of the government were replaced by the pursuit of individual enlightenment, communality, and collective consciousness.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

Barlow’s work in collaboration with Wired magazine established a movement inspired by an ideology of digital utopianism. In what ways has this ideology integrated into the public consciousness? In my own research on online social networking communities, I would like to examine how these sites contribute to as well as diminish the creation of a “digital utopia”.

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