The Internet Will Eat Your Babies

Ah, the internet! It’s democratized the arts, destroyed those evil gatekeepers, and finally made it possible for everyone to be heard! It has allowed people to form communities, to find new friends, to find audiences that they might never have had. Thanks to the internet, all that stands between you and success is yourself. If only you would put the kind of effort you put into a McDonald’s job into promoting yourself, you too could become as successful as the kind of people who tell you these things imagine that they’re going to be.

And if it doesn’t work? Well, then it must be a conspiracy. It’s either the liberal media elite and the nanny state or the institutionalized anti-your-group-ism that has plagued society since the beginning of history. They hate you because you’re the first woman to speak about injustice, or because your radical vision of a society dedicated to free market principles is something that corporate-backed politicians could never accept. It’s the oppressive patriarchal libertarian communist pro-gay anti-trans quasi-brony meta-epistemological sheeple-led brocialist conspiracy of the Federal Reserve, reading your tweets and deciding, based on your dating profile, that you must be kept down.

Or maybe there’s just too much shit.

Maybe the internet is just drowning in shit, because removing the gatekeepers is like opening the sewers onto the streets and letting it all flow. Everyone has the freedom to publish, but no-one has an audience. In fact, everyone is encouraged to publish, as if publishing was somehow inherently good, as if you must produce to have value, as if it’s bad to observe and enjoy. A prison in which everyone is locked in separate cells and communicates by screaming is not a society, it’s social media. It’s not that either cream rises to the top or turds do, it’s that we’re swimming in a chunky, frothy cocktail of both. We value identity over ability and profit over quality, but it’s not just that. It’s not just our values, because even when you know what you want, it’s not easy to find it in the flood of incoherent, unfocused babble that is the internet.

Oh, I’m not complaining. I’m luckier than a lot of people.

But dear God, are we bullshitting ourselves. The internet is like a monument to broken dreams. If you put something out there, even something absolutely fucking brilliant, chances are it will just sink. It is, after all, competing against everything else on the net, from the newest piece of geek-targeted marketing disguised as news on some trashy gaming website to the newest porn extravaganza that will be denounced as the end of morality or celebrated as the height of feminist self-fulfilment. The internet under capitalism is not like a bookshop, it’s like a garbage dump, and we’re the semi-cannibalistic seagulls who live there and have never seen the sea.

How many abandoned blogs are out there? How many of them are brilliant, utterly deserving of a large audience? I don’t know, because finding out would mean having to read a billion pages of mind-numbing idiocy. I can barely keep up with the few blogs I do follow, and sometimes I stop reading a blog because I can already see it bleeding readers, because I don’t want to watch it die.

The existence of the dreaded gatekeepers didn’t stop Mary Wollstonecraft or W. E. B. Du Bois from getting published – what would happen to their work today? Maybe it would be successful. Or maybe it would just be an obsessively-read blog that would peter out after a year or so, to become another buried piece of trash in the great garbage dump.

No, things were not brilliant in the past and they’re not hopeless now. But we’ve really got to be a lot more careful about the ideological bullshit we feed ourselves as we waste away in front of our monitors. The internet is certainly not the best thing that has ever happened to art. It’s not freedom and potential and rainbow-coloured fetish gear for unicorns. Well, it might be the latter. But it’s as dominated by the idiotic contradictions of late capitalism as everything else. It can help you, but it can also eat your babies.

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7 Comments

  1. Clint Emsley

     /  July 19, 2013

    I’ve given up on the internet as a super-amazing place to become famous for your genius. At this point, I think it’s a great way to share content and things you’ve created with a fairly tight-knit group of friends/acquaintances who probably already share your interests. It’s a knitting circle without the yarn.

  2. The few pieces of quality drowning in a sea of bullshit is one side of the internet; the other is having people who are by now accustomed to bullshit being the norm badmouthing things that don’t fit into their bullshit-standard.

    So, by conditioning of the audience, shit is today mostly guaranteed to rise to the top, while quality will reliably earn evaluations like “boring”, “not my style”, etc. On the other hand, who cares – on the net, quality drowns and will continue to drown in garbage anyway …

  3. I like the article! Though I don’t see what capitalism has to do with anything. Can you explain why you blame late capitalism for people posting shit online? I mean, its not like capitalist countries are the only ones posting shit online.

  4. @Javier: I wouldn’t solely blame capitalism for this situation, but I’d argue the profit motive (especially in its most extreme, desperate form) adds a whole new layer of shittiness and distortion. And spam.

    I don’t think there are any non-capitalist states at the moment. There are authoritarian capitalist states like China and capitalist states with strong welfare systems in parts of South America and Scandinavia, but no states not built around the profit motive and mostly private ownership of the means of production.

  5. China defines itself as communist, not authoritarian capitalist, but I get what you’re saying. Its true though, many people is only after the buck. Though, China is a commie country. To me, all countries are the same, rich people on top, poor people at the bottom. People can call it anytime they want, but its the same.

  6. Someone

     /  July 22, 2013

    Well, duh. What’s good about the internet is that the good stuff get’s the chance to be seen at all.

    Plus, the fact that there is so much can be (can not will) helpful against those who want you to believe what they want you to believe. When you just had local tv news instead of foreign news or live in-person internet reporters all you had was one point of view. Now you have so many that anyone with even one braincell wonders if the folks they trust know what they’re talking about when there are so many other people saying other things.

    The internet is just a tool, and a tool is only as good as the being that builds and/or wields it.

  7. You sounded so pessimistic. I think the audiences for this kind of intense, true experience were never huge. Classical music in general was always something like way below 5% throughout the centuries. Still we have dedicated audiences everywhere. Sometimes with some organizations and promoters it’s better, sometimes it’s going down the hill because too much is about commercialization and superstars. But in general I think even if we are only a zoo or a museum, we always have people who want to get close to their hearts and their emotions, and I find this shall be done or works better in a concert rather than at home.