Age Of Implicit Technological Determinism: Media In Our Life

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Since the dawn of the internet in 1983, the online media world has brought on exportation and spread of western ideas and culture across the world but there has also been a reaction to this and anti-globalization sentiment, localism and nationalism has been greatly revived. In today’s post-globalization era we are faced with the failings of the neoliberal system and the social dissatisfaction and anger these issues have brought. This movement has been fuelled by a number of things, but in terms of the media world, it is because social media platforms are becoming more and more politically divisive, and negative minority groups, such as white supremacy organisations, now have a platform to raise their voice, without barriers. In the intensity of the media world, things are becoming too close and too open for some, and a result, conservatives fear that the future of their country and their culture is in jeopardy, thus xenophobia and racism is spreading.

Between the early 1970s to the mid-2000s, economic growth extended to nearly every region of the world and the number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 42 percent in 1993 to 18 percent in 2008. (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2017) However, not everyone benefited from these changes. Across the world, and particularly in developed democracies, neoliberalist globalization increased economic inequality as the benefits of growth went primarily to the wealthy and educated. These changes slowed the world movement towards an increasingly liberal system that stagnated and soon reversed. The financial crisis of 2007-8 and the European debt crisis in 2009 were the breaking point. Millions suffered fallen incomes, unemployment and huge recessions (Fukuyama, 2018). The neoliberal economic model is now considered by many including Joseph Stiglitz to be “an ideology that has clearly failed’ (Stiglitz, 2019) Wealth concentration, monopoly power, exploitation, wealth-grabbing vs wealth-creation and money driven politics are some of the causes that have led to the exponential growth of inequality over the past three decades (Stiglitz, 2019). The neoliberal system is one that by nature fosters inequality. Today the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population are more wealthy than the remaining 99%. The resentment over inequality the system has produced has given rise to nationalism, populism, anti-immigration, protectionism, racism and anti-intellectualism across the world. These issues have led to a rise in nationalist populism worldwide and also a rise in localism and regionalism over globalism. Globalization did lead to the export of western culture across the world and did create a ‘californiazation of need’, which refers to how, consumers wishes and needs have progressively converged due to the increased information circulation and global lifestyle. In essence, more or less everyone wishes to live and shop in California. For example, Turks, Koreans, French, and Japanese alike all have McDonalds for lunch and a Starbucks frappuccino afterwards, whist wearing Armani and carrying an iPhone in a Gucci bag. (Ohmae, 1989). This export changed global consumers consumption preferences to reflect the desire to have what the “developed” world had which led to an apparent homogeneity of culture, but at the same time, globalization has led to strong nationalism and desire to protect local culture. Anti-immigration sentiment has caused the United Kingdom to leave the EU and for the United States to vote for Donald Trump. These developments are due to the negative consequences of neoliberal globalization. This is seen in the media where poplist leaders such as Trump utilize these feelings of dissatisfaction with the current system to stir anti-immigration sentiment, nationalist fervour and racist opinions. These issues have led to an anti-globalization mentality and a strong desire to protect national identity and culture. Analysis of respondents in twenty countries sampled in the 2002-03 European Social Survey (ESS) voted that protecting their national identity was more important to stop immigration than for economic reasons (Sides & Citrin, 2007).

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It can also be argued that Globalization is the next stage in western capitalist Imperialism. Western culture, values and norms have been exported by the global north to the global south through globalization, and in this sense, globalization could be seen as the next stage of capitalism; it is the natural progression of expanding markets. However, the prevalent ideology of globalization and development was born from inherently racist principles and can be considered a neo-colonial project of the Global North to spread and further capitalist objectives for the North’s economic gain. The true nature of modern development in aiding the ambitions and objectives of neoliberal colonialism can be witnessed by the many similarities in the methods and outcomes between the colonial civilizing mission and modern development. This is why development can be viewed as a neo-colonial project (Nkrumah, 1965). The perpetuation of racist ideas continue, as does the exploitation of the South’s resources through newly adapted channels (Nkrumah, 1965). Andre Gunder Frank’s dependency theory also argues that underdevelopment is purposefully ‘developed’ by the core. He argues that the core and the periphery have been simultaneously developed to fit together in the large capitalist system. He states that the periphery countries, by design, end up working for the core countries (Frank, 1967). David Ricardo’s comparative advantage principle also reinforces this structural inequality whereby under the current trade system it is the technologically advanced countries are the ones that truly benefit (Ricardo, 1817).

In the wake of Donald Trump’s successful election campaign, hate and division has become a political business model, sponsored by the extreme right (MacLean 2017). According to Benkler et al, a study of over “1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.” (Benkler et al, 2017). Breitbart, a News Network, specialises in a kind of soft hatred that doesn’t explicitly slur or slander and group openly, but there reporting is overwhelmingly biased. For example, there are dozens of anti-Islamic stories, portraying Islamic people negatively, but not one that paints them in a positive light in the entire corpus of their online pages. This industrialisation of hate can easily get clicks, coverage, comments, and arouse people’s passions as their fears and anxieties are broadcasted across the media world. In this sense, we are seeing the industrialisation of hate in such a way that it is intentionally designed to “destabilize and disrupt politics, as seen in organised racist-reactionary meme culture.” (Applegate & Cohen, 2017) This works to normalise forms of public speech that until recently, were deemed unacceptable, and is consistent with the rise of populism (Mudde, 2004). For example, according to Zachary Laub, “Incidents [of hate speech] have been reported on nearly every continent. Much of the world now communicates on social media, with nearly a third of the world’s population active on Facebook alone. As more and more people have moved online, experts say, individuals inclined toward racism, misogyny, or homophobia have found niches that can reinforce their views and goad them to violence. Social media platforms also offer violent actors the opportunity to publicize their acts” (Laub, 2019). Results from the Pew Research Centre on a survey which asked participants if “People should be able to make statements that are offensive to minority groups publicly” (2015), showed that 67% of participants from the United States said yes, with 50% from Latin America, 46% from Europe, and 36% from Africa, all answering ‘yes’, the global median was 35% (Wike & Simmons, 2015).

Between the early 1970s to the mid-2000s, the number of democracies around the world increased from approximately 35 to more than 110 (Fukuyama 2018). However, as mentioned earlier, after the financial crisis of 2007-8 and the European debt crisis in 2009, “Since the United States and the EU were the leading exemplars of liberal democracy, these crises damaged the reputation of that system as a whole.” (Fukuyama, 2018) Since then the number of democracies has fallen in almost all regions of the world and there has been a democratic decline in aggregate Freedom House scores every year (Diamond, 2016). According to Persily, when analysing the fate of democracy in a post-globalisation world,

“The 2016 election represents the latest chapter in the disintegration of the legacy institutions that had set bounds for U.S. politics in the post- war era.” It is tempting (and in many ways correct) to view the Donald Trump campaign as unprecedented in its breaking of established norms of politics. Yet this type of campaign could only be successful because established institutions—especially the mainstream media and political-party organizations—had already lost most of their power, both in the United States and around the world. The void that these eroding institutions left was filled by an unmediated populist nationalism tailor-made for the Internet age.” (Persily, 2017, p. 64)

We are currently living in an age of implicit technological determinism, where we feel ourselves to be in the thrall of big tech firms and the thrall of technological change. However, in the early days of the Internet, scholars had far more utopian hopes for the digital future. In Vincent Mosco’s The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace, he argues that new technologies have always been surrounded by myths about their revolutionary powers. The telephone, radio, television and the computer were all introduced amidst pronouncements about how their democratic potential: “Cyberspace is a mythic space, one that transcends the banal, day-to-day worlds of time, space and politics . . . Cyberspace is a central force in the growth of the three central mythos of our time . . . the end of history, the end of geography and the end of politics” (Mosco, 2004, p. 13). Moscow and many others believed the digital age would instigate a new era of democracy. Similarly, at the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, many scholars, including Fukuyama in his famous End of History, forecasted that it marked the end of wars as liberal capitalist democracy triumphed and lead to an era of world peace. He argued it was the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” (Fukuyama, 1992). He believed that the two main alternatives to democracy – fascism and communism, were no match for democracies and that democracies were destined to be the inevitable primary form of government across the world. It meant more than just the end of the Cold War, it meant the obliteration of all walls, opening up to free markets, “to common political values across the world, to the birth of a true international community.” (Hirsh, 2019) 30 years later, and the world couldn’t be further from this prediction, instead of an international community void of borders, real walls are being erected around the United States and the United Kingdom is leaving the EU. The current digital world is one full of brutal participants that prey on policies from glum digital places.


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