In their science-based fiction « The Collapse of Western Civilisation », American scientists Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway suggest discarding a few words that in their view clutter the debate about climate change by perpetuating an adherence to obsolete concepts. In a different way, in 1881, Flaubert proposed » Le dictionnaire des idées reçues » in its unfinished satirical text « Bouvard et Pécuchet », hoping society would rise to a more demanding level of conversation.
Here is, for instance, what Oreskes and Conway write under « Capitalism », an entry sandwiched between « Bridge to Renewables » and « Carbon-Combustion Complex »: » A form of socioeconomic organization that dominated Western Europe and North America from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, in which the means of production and distribution of goods and services were owned either by individuals or by government – chartered legal entities called » corporations ». (…) The separation of work from ownership produced a concentration of wealth amongst a tiny elite, who could then purchase more favorable laws and regulations from their host governments. One popular notion about capitalism of the period was that it operated through a process of creative destruction. Ultimately, capitalism was paralyzed in the face of the rapid climate destabilization it drove, destroying itself. »
In the same vein, following the French cultural theorist Pierre Levy, may I modestly suggest we basically retire the word « internet » and replace it with » the algorithmic medium » so we can always, in a kind of in your face way, remind ourselves of what is currently at play in our connected economy. I emphasise the word economy here rather than society to stress the point that the « big data » generated today by the global network forms a large part of the fuel of our current « capitalism ».
Thus, à la Oreskes and Conway, my paragraph on the Internet would read:
» Internet: a physical network of networks created in the early nineteen sixties to freely share academic, scientific and military research between universities and government organizations organized in a completely decentralized structure and with no formal governance. The early internet was founded on self-accepted rules of behavior, values in other words. Aside a « savoir-faire » of civility, codified in what was called « netiquette, » strong not for profit, noncommercial ethics was underlying the entire project. A late internet era, loosely referred to as « Web 2.0 » saw the expansion and the democratization of the Internet; the number of people connected to the network reached billions, all accepting willingly to share their most intimate thoughts. Thus « big data » was created, lots of it as this visualisation shows. The amount of data carried grew exponentially at such a rate that it could only be processed by algorithms initially developed by small start-up companies that quickly became enormous conglomerate concentrating in a few hands an amount of wealth and power unprecedented in the history of mankind. The particularity of the system was that the data was supplied for free by the users of the Internet while it was sold by private the companies, some of them so large and powerful that they often negotiated directly with governments.The promise of empowerment at the core of the invention of the personal computer, leading to a more equal society was sneered at as naïve. Massive unauthorized surveillance by governments in the name on the war on terror finished the job of completely debasing the fundamentals of the early internet. The Internet as an experiment of decentralization of power, economic and political, thus died. It was replaced by the « algorithmic medium » which today defines our digital condition. »