by Jake Woodhouse
On February 4th 2004 the technological equivalent of a Trojan Horse was quietly rolled onto the internet. There had been others of course, Google being the obvious example of a new kind of business which provided a service to customers for free, but none which have come to symbolize the new era as much as Facebook. Do we even remember a time before Facebook? Or any of the other companies such as Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube who have come to dominate our society, changed the way we interact, how we do business, how we live our lives?
And could we have predicated how this massive garnering of our attention has turned out? It seems not. At the beginning of 2021 it has now become alarmingly clear that we have given up our freedoms for a few shiny baubles. We have scrolled, clicked and liked our way into a trap so large and so dangerous, that our very liberty is now at stake. And yet, unbelievably, many of us have yet to pull back from the constant stream of notifications on our screens long enough to see it.
The Internet has given us many good things. It has facilitated the dissemination of ideas quicker and more widely than at any other time in history, it has given artists and musicians a platform, and it has allowed so much innovation which has made our day-to-day lives easier. There are bad sides too, terrorism, hate, and the rise of mega-businesses which have been able to quietly crush their small opposition.
All of this we know, but we accept it because times have to change, and when we order something from Amazon and it arrives that very same day part of us can’t suppress the glee that such easy wish fulfilment is possible. How lucky we are.
None of this is news to anyone. But what this last year has shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that there is something far, far darker lurking in this new hyper-connected world. I’m not going to trot out all the tired statistics about the number of hours spent online by children and adults alike, that has already been done ad nauseam. We’ve all read them, on our devices of course, then shrugged and checked our Instagram.
So what is the darkness which has emerged over the last year? The rampant and blatant censorship of anyone who has questioned the pandemic narrative? The de-platforming of people who had made their livelihoods through their online channels simply because they expressed a contrarian opinion? Well in part, yes. 2020 will be remembered as the year free speech died a death. But that is still not the heart of the darkness.
The real horror is that these companies have constructed a world, a brave new world, and it’s now the world we live in. It’s bright and shiny and endlessly fascinating, and it caters to our every whim. But make no mistake, it’s a manufactured world, a world which is ever more tightly controlled, and one which has just started to show its authoritarian and deeply illiberal hand. Those Silicon Valley billionaires have made themselves Gods, and created a world for the rest of us to live in.
Do we think for a moment that the way this pandemic has played out could have happened before? Of course not. There simply wasn’t the technical infrastructure to allow large portions of the population to stay at home whilst continuing to work. The initial lockdown wouldn’t have been an option, let alone the continual pushing back of the promised end to it all.
Just imagine for a moment the internet going down due to a massive cyber attack – the type the World Economic Forum have warned about, just as they warned us about the pandemic – and when it comes back up the rules have changed. You can no longer access it freely, but only through sanctioned apps which only let you see what they want you to see, only let you communicate with who they want you to communicate with, only send the kind of messages they want you to send.
Then where would we be? Would we be able to form any kind of opposition to whatever tyranny would be imposed? Could we organise a fightback against the greatest enemy mankind has ever faced by talking to each other on landline telephones? Use the postal service to stoke the fires of revolution? No, we couldn’t. We would be isolated, alone, and totally at the mercy of whatever they wanted to impose on us.
At that moment we will realise the internet has become a giant panopticon to enslave all of humanity. Only then it will be too late.
All we’ll be able to do is shrug our shoulders again and fully enter the world they have created for our eternal lockdown.