Work in progress – Please do not cite, quote or summarise or circulate without permission.
Extended Abstract for
The 4th ICTs and Society Conference, Uppsala University, Sweden
There is never a shortage of celebratory and condemnatory popular discourse on the Internet and the Web even in its early days. Although the hopes and dreams of the Internet and the Web have faded with the burst of dot-com bubble in 1990s and the rise of control and surveillance over and through information technology after September 11, 2003, the advent of Web 2.0, with its newly proclaimed potential and promise, has rejuvenated the hopes and dreams of the enthusiasts and renewed the popular discourse on the Internet and the Web. I shall argue that researchers should not take lightly the popular discourse on the Internet and Web 2.0, as it can deepen our understanding of the axiological foundation(s) of our judgements towards them.
Looking at some of the most representative examples available (e.g. Andrew Keen’s Cult of Amateur, Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, Nicholas Carr’s The Shallow, Jaron Lanier’s You are Not a Gadget and Nick Bilton’s I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works), I examine this (new) wave of popular discourse, focusing on the (new) worries and doubts voiced by the alarmists and the (new) hopes and dreams portrayed by the enthusiasts. More specifically, I will examine the problem representation (i.e. what problems are being represented and how they are represented) and axiologisation (i.e. what benefits and harms are being foregrounded and how they are foregrounded) of the Internet and Web 2.0 in popular discourse. I shall illustrate that the popular discourse on the Internet and Web 2.0 are ultimately rested on different notions of the self, i.e. the disengaged self of the Enlightenment, the expressive self of Romanticism and the reflexive self of the late modernity. This conclusion has a significant implication to practising the critique of the Internet and Web 2.0, namely it entails that our critique of the Internet and Web 2.0 cannot be done without referring to a notion of the self. Hence, a critical enquiry of the Internet and Web 2.0 should not only be about the moral and/or prudential goodness or badness of the Internet and Web 2.0 per se, instead it should be about whom we should be online, or which notion(s) of the self we should strive for.
I shall end my paper with a tentative answer to the question of “Who Should We be Online?” by drawing from Ess’s analysis of the human condition of the information society, and propose an account the art-of-digital-life, i.e. the art of living in information society.