The Return of Techno-Utopia and Its Dangers

As postmodernism faded in the 1990s, techno-utopianism replaced techno-pessimism. The rapid transformation of everyday life through technology in the 1990s and 2000s suggested to enthusiasts that technology would naturally lead to positive societal change. Soon, media writers brought back techno-utopianism, blending the bohemianism and libertarianism prevalent in the San Francisco Bay Area with an enthusiasm for technology. Proponents of this position argue that new communications technologies make possible a Jeffersonian democracy of equals, capable of freely expressing themselves and deliberating about the crucial issues of our day in the electronic agora.[1]

Even with the collapse of the economy in the fall of 2008, few seem to expect a slowdown in technological progress. On the contrary, to many technology is the way past economic collapse. In stark distinction from postmodernism, technological pessimism is now hard to find. Although the limits of nature continue to be keenly felt-global warming, peak oil, and genetic abnormalities are all great concerns of our day-generally speaking our hope is that innovation will rescue us. We've absorbed a market mentality: live for the moment and let new technologies or net businesses take care of old problems. The environmentalist movement of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s is now replaced by the thoroughly commodified "green movement," the call to action of Silent Spring replaced by recycled-plastic shopping bags. Even the concern about global warming evokes technological solutions.

Much of the contemporary writing about technology and society today is enthusiastic about change. This is particularly true for those writers who investigate new, technological forms of cultural production. In part, this is necessary for political purposes-for example to encourage reform (or at least discourage negative change) of copyright laws that inhibit the use of remix or to stimulate government policies that would support the deployment of new media in education. Provisionally, such work is necessary, but such arguments get in the way of fully examining our moment historically. There is much to applaud about network culture, but much to condemn as well.

I set out writing this book without a preconceived idea that network culture is either positive or negative, a position likely to ensure a negative reaction from both network culture's critics and its enthusiasts alike. Unquestionably, there is much to be said for the new, networked life that is emerging. But we must be critical, challenging network culture where it needs to be challenged, curbing our enthusiasm where necessary and agitating against it as conditions warrant.

Finally, a word about the scope of this book. If my goal is a global understanding of network culture, I set out to do this as someone who teaches both in the United States and Ireland and also has roots in Lithuania. One of the defining characteristics of network culture is its global scope. But if the network has no center, its most dominant nodes are nevertheless in the United States and Europe, even as the rest of the world continues its rise. The West continues to dominate the network through its control of political institutions, finance, media, and technology. That said, nothing could be more important than counter-narratives of our time from other cultures, a task for which I am by no means qualified.




[1] . Barbrook and Cameron, "The Californian Ideology," (August 1995), http://www.alamut.com/subj/ideologies/pessimism/califIdeo_I.html