As the Internet has risen to its present day status as what Marcuse would call a, “new form of control”, it has also begun to be used as a vehicle of imperialism, spreading this control throughout society on a global level (Chapter 1 Marcuse).
Author Mark Bowden’s book, Worm argues that were it not for the initial desire of military personnel to share data across the United States by linking computers together through ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), the Internet that we know and use today would never have arisen (12-13 Bowden). However, as more and more individuals found that computers provided useful labor-saving services, more and more individuals found that they could benefit from being connected to the ARPANET (12-13 Bowden). Bowden argues that the Internet’s, “first hugely successful unforeseen application became email, the ability to send messages instantly anywhere in the world” (13 Bowden). While email did much to popularize the Internet, it aided it in becoming, “a forum for anything that required interaction, from delicate diplomacy to working out complex differential equations to buying office supplies” at the same time” (17 Bowden). In this way, author Hubert L. Dreyfus claims that the Internet makes users feel that they, “will be able to transcend the limits imposed on us by our body” in his book, On the Internet (4 Dreyfus). This freedom from the tangible has devastating consequences for them however, as it can, “lead to loss of ability to recognize relevance” (7 Dreyfus). By giving users the ability to communicate with each other instantly in a non-physical manner, the Internet began to become a “new form of control” as this feature helped, “reduce the opposition to the discussion and promotion of alternative policies within the status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse).
Evidence for this can be seen in the popularity of social networking websites like Facebook and Google around the globe. By using a search engine like Google, the Internet user is forced, regardless of personal economic philosophy, to become, “ a free economic subject” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). They are forced to receive search results heavily influenced by the amount of money marketing companies had available to spend on their clients’ websites. With Google’s international acclaim, effects of the United State’s brand of Capitalism can be felt on global level. By embracing this new form of technology which, “operates through the manipulation of needs by vested interests”, the general public is forced to embrace the Capitalistic ideals of the companies which supply search engines, web-pages, and advertising on the Internet (Chapter 1 Marcuse). This control has steadily increased with our “paperless” society’s growing dependence on Internet based technology. Now, as one is,“compelled to prove himself on the market, as a free economic subject”, he is also compelled to use the Internet, and vice-versa (Chapter 1 Marcuse). One difference between the Internet and other “new forms of control” considered by Marcuse prior to its development, however, is the Internet’s ability to imperialistically spread Capitalistic economics throughout the globe without the conquering and colonization of foreign territories seen in eras gone by (Chapter 1 Marucse).
In order to fully grasp how truly unique this ability is to the Internet, one must first examine it within a historical context. Author Eric Hobsbawm gives an illuminating example of how different global economic influence was prior to the twentieth century in his book, Age of Empire. With regard to the United Kingdom, Hobsbawm states that, “in the late nineteenth century it was remarkably successful” because it was, “expanding the area officially or actually under the British monarchy to a quarter of the surface of the globe” (74 Hobsbawm). In order to gain more global economic sway before the dawn of the computer age, nation states conquered countries around the world, spending fortunes on instruments of war and millions of lives in battle. In that time, “if colonization was merely one aspect of a more general change in world affairs, it was plainly the most immediately striking” (59 Hobsbawm). As empires emerged, so did their imperialist tendencies. The desire to conquer, to open up new trade possibility, was evidenced within this time period to a tremendous degree. The same technology that was making citizens able to travel farther and faster than ever dreamed before was also giving world powers the ability to quickly and efficiently defeat inferior nations. In contrast to industrializing, enlightened Europe and the United States, “over most of the non-white world, religion still remained the only language for talking about the cosmos, nature, society, and politics” (264 Hobsbawm). The Internet as a technological status quo, however, forces people in distinct nation states around the world to all use the same medium of communication, which is rooted in Capitalist big businesses like Google without colonizing them. It seems as if these nations have fallen victim to, “nihilistic leveling launched by the Enlightenment, promoted by the press and the public sphere, and perfected in the World Wide Web” (88 Dreyfus).
This necessitates that attention be paid on part of the U.S. as to the Internet’s full, secure accessibility, “to such an extent that all contradiction seems irrational and all counteraction impossible” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). This is evidenced by the United States’ stance on China’s censoring of the Internet. In a 2010 Huffington Post article, Christopher Bodeen reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “criticized countries engaging in cyberspace censorship, and urged China to investigate computer attacks against Google” (Bodeen). Outraged, China was quick to respond, “accusing the United States of damaging relations between the two countries by imposing its "information imperialism"” (Bodeen). Clinton’s speech,“was also denounced by an official newspaper Friday as part of a U.S. campaign to impose its values and denigrate other cultures while exploiting their societies' vulnerabilities” (Bodeen). One thing this demonstrates beyond is the sheer power the Internet holds over international relations. In particular, Clinton’s plea for China, “to investigate computer attacks against Google” sticks out as an accurate indicator of the importance placed on the Internet’s full, secure accessibility and subsequent utilization as an advertising platform for Capitalism (Bodeen).
Another such indicator is delivered through the narrative of Mark Bowden’s book, Worm. In his account, Bowden describes the feverish sense of urgency U.S. computer experts felt while trying to combat a rapidly expanding Conficker computer virus (X Bowden). The virus was infecting computers at a rate alarming enough to be called, “a worldwide digital blitzkrieg” (22 Bowden). The real panic came, however, when it became clear that the virus, “was building a botnet” (22 Bowden). This meant that Conficker was attempting to build an army out of the computers it had infected, which could then be controlled by hackers at the virus’s source and possibly bring down the Internet altogether (X Bowden). The Conficker could have brought the world to its knees from the standpoint of the U.S., and those working against it did not, “ tire of the time, effort, and expense involved” in their mission, but prevailed (158 Bowden). The virus and fight against it, “were headlines worldwide”, proving that the Internet has become so ingrained in global society that the prospect of it being taken away causes international uproar (158 Bowden). Like the news story aforementioned, it demonstrates the powerful influence the Internet has on global relations.
In fact, author Manfred B. Steger claims in his book, Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, that, “some scholars consciously limit the historical scope of globalization to the post-1989 era” (18 Steger). By seeing globalization as a trend so recent, these academic figures give credibility to the notion that the Internet is one of its key factors. While it is important to also trace its roots further back, “to such momentous technological and social achievements as the production of paper, the invention of writing” etc, the Internet remains the game-changing factor that led directly to our current state of globalization (18 Steger). It seems as if the, “1980s represent a quantum leap forward in the history of globalization” due to the emergence of the Internet (19 Steger). However, the trend of, “worldwide interdependence and the rise of global imagery are gradual processes with deep historical roots” (18 Steger). We can see their emergence along with the Internet as an equalizer among nations with vastly differing religious backgrounds.
Author Toby E. Huff’s The Rise of Early Modern Science provides the reader a good background through which to contextualize this stunning achievement of the Internet. Why did scientific advancement in the Arab world rocket ahead of the rest during the early 1500s, only to fall flat of the truly modern science seen soon after in the West? Huff devotes substantial time to the exploration of, “its religion, philosophy, and law” (89 Huff). Central among these in shaping the fall of Arabic science is the law. Being that in these Arab nations, “the roots or sources of the law are four: the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet (the sunna), analogical reasoning (qiyas), and the consensus (ijma’) of the scholarly community”, it was impossible to consider oneself an Arab without first considering oneself a practitioner of Islam (92 Huff). Such a system was in direct opposition to the fostering of scientific advancement among those pursuing higher learning. It is not surprising to note that, while the Arab world remained transfixed upon its theocratical roots, Europe was in rebelling against theirs. While the religion of the Arab world permeated its citizens and educational system to the core, “European and Western law generally developed along a path that took the opposite direction (105 Huff). As one further investigates the chasm that quickly developed between Arab and Western scientific advancement, it seems to be, above all, rooted in the very nature of their separate societal structures. With a legal system based upon Islam, and an educational system made possible by learned religious scholars, it built a trap it simply could not get itself out of.
By shattering cultural barriers like this one, the Internet created a medium which allows us to, “transcend the limits imposed on us” by our society or physical location (4 Dreyfus). This transcendence is what makes the Internet such an effective “new form of control” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). It entices people to use it in order to free themselves from the limitations of the physical world, but in doing so also serves to, “reduce the opposition to the discussion and promotion of alternative policies within the status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). It is because of this fact that the Internet is also such an effective vehicle for the type of Imperialism aforementioned. Even those nations opposed to the Capitalist economic roots of some of the Internet’s big businesses still allow citizens to use the Internet itself. They are forced to be at least somewhat, “within the status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). They are also deemed “irrational” to say the least for merely censoring a handful of U.S. based websites from their citizens (Chapter 1 Marcuse). With these thoughts in mind, one is left to wonder: Is the Internet merely the newest means of, “manipulation and indoctrination” (Chapter 1 Marcuse)? Or perhaps it more complicated than that. In any case, the Internet has opened up the world to completely new kind of globalization, one far more intangible yet thorough than any preceding it.
• Bodeen, Christopher. "China Slams Clinton's Internet Speech: 'Information Imperialism'." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. www.HuffingtonPost.com, 22 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/22/china-slams-clintons-inte_n_432691.html>.
• Bowden, Mark. Worm: the first digital world war. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011. Print.
• Dreyfus, Hubert L.. On the Internet. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.
• Hobsbawm, E. J.. The Age of Empire, 1875-1914. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987. Print.
• Huff, Toby E.. The rise of early modern science: Islam, China, and the West. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.
• Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man; studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. Print.
• Steger, Manfred B.. Globalization: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.