Democracy and Sharks!

// Posted by on 06/04/2015 (3:32 PM)


What the readings this week left me with is this:

  1. Clearly, we’re trying to move money and move it fast. These processes help make more money. It might be legal, it might not be, and some people have developed algorithms to manipulate it. Pretty simple, well, not really, but you know what I mean.
  2. More importantly, I think, access to the internet and all things digital and fast does not necessarily build or promote democracy.


 The Internet is designed for collaboration and the promotion of ideas. As long as people are able to access the Internet, they will have a greater possibility of locating like-minded people. When like-minded people collaborate, they develop new ideas and they begin to question things. If they can’t find a logical answer they begin to question those that made the decision, ruling, law, etc. in the first place. If those decision-makers won’t make change, then that group of like-minded people will organize and work to force change. Decision-makers and leaders don’t like this. It puts their power at risk. It calls their authority into question. The Internet definitely gives power to the general public. Power to the people!


The ability to organize and make change is power and the Internet is absolutely a tool for this to happen. The ability to then force our leaders to make change, and if they don’t we vote them out of office, that’s power.

But wait!

The Electronic Frontier Foundation made note that Venezuelans working with several different ISPs lost all connectivity on Thursday of this past week. Users lost connectivity to the major content delivery network Edgecast and the IP address which provides access to Twitter’s image hosting service while another block stopped Venezuelan access to the text-based site Pastebin.

Meanwhile the New York Times reports that the news network NTN24 has been shut down as well. The alternative news channel Telesur, run by the Venezuelan government, is still up and running.

NTN24 has been shut down, according to the president of Venezuela, due to their attempt to “torment anxiety about a coup d’etat.  The President Maduro went on to suggest that “no one is going to come from abroad and try to perturb  the psychological climate of Venezuela.” NTN24 was removed on Wednesday of this past week. (“Venezuelan government shuts down internet in wake of protests“)

The government, big business, and many other powerful and authoritative entities have the same access, if not more, to the Internet as that group of like-minded people that rose up for change. Basically, if they didn’t like that the aforementioned group organized and questioned their power, they have the power to take it away. If there’s no internet, people can’t share ideas, ask questions, or continue to organize. They could target individuals, spy on them, steal their identities, or even make it so their cats no longer recognize them.

The Internet empowers everyone who has access, but don’t use your access to do anything questioning those that gave you access. They’ve been empowered too, and odds are they have even more power and even more internet. David Golumbia states in his article, “High-frequency trading: networks of wealth and the concentration of power,” that “many of the most powerful actors in our world show absolutely no signs of being afraid  of losing their grip on power due to computerization.” This isn’t a redistribution of access or power, but rather the already powerful are sharing just a tiny bit – just enough to keep from asking questions. The powerful have tried to oppress print and television in the same way – either by shutting it down altogether, or by entirely dictating what those mediums are allowed to present to the public.

So no, the Internet is not democratic. It’s a tool that we’ve been given to use, and if we don’t use it right it will be used against us. Golumbia says that “people themselves must reassert their right and their responsibility to govern and operate the parts of society that are and should be democratized.”

Oh! I almost forgot!

3. Sharks! I can’t forget the sharks. It’s crazy to think that these companies are pouring all of this money into establishing this infrastructure only to have the sharks come and play with it. It’s like a squirrel biting a power line. Is it possible to mask this electromagnetic field? I don’t know enough about this stuff to speculate. If sharks get angry at humans and decide to take out the internet, or any of the other fiber optic cables running along the ocean floor, we’re in the dark and they’ll have ample time to devise their takeover. This is power! It seems that access to the internet and the expansion of digital technology really does empower anything and everyone.

Today’s lesson: don’t piss off the sharks.


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Rosatelli said...

Hi David,

You post reminds me why I love the internet: pictures of dinosaurs riding sharks with dynamite and machine guns. Brilliant!

I said in class on Monday that if you take anything away from this class, I hope it’s that culture matters. Culture and society dictates how we use tools, even tools that hold more information than has every been created in human history (which the internet does). When the Egyptian government shut down the internet during the revolution a few years ago, some US hackers got them instructions on how to get messages through via fax machines and amateur radio. There are ways, but it’s tough. At the end of the day, Sassen’s research is a good touchstone. The power of the nation state is shifting, but it still has the power of the switch. We are often told that people have the power in the digital age. Time magazine even made “you” the person of the year during the web 2.0 explosion. So, who does have the power in the digital age? What is the sphere of influence? How is it used?

// 06/04/2015 at 7:48 pm

Kaitlyn said...

I agree with your point that the Internet is a place for likeminded people to come together. It also is a place for people who may feel socially awkward to work on their talking and listening skills before going out into the real world. I think there is a concern though that people need to evolve with the advancements in technology. Sometimes older generations may be set in their ways so they may not want to learn how to use a computer or smart phone. I think that in order to function in our times people need to at least know how to use a computer. It seems in the future a person could get left behind if they don’t learn how to use the new technology.

// 06/05/2015 at 11:51 am

Caitlin said...

Hi David,

I have to first start by saying, I loved all of your pictures that you included into your post but especially the last one! It was shocking to me how easily the sharks could take out the lines and then we’d be SOL.

In regards to the Internet being democratic, I had many of the same views as you did. It seemed simple to me that the Internet, was in fact, not democratic. I think at times people believe there is a hidden agenda to everything but really the Internet is either there for us to use it for what it was made for or then yes, it can be used as a tool to take us out.

// 06/06/2015 at 2:07 pm

David said...

Since, sadly, that is the truth about the Internet, I really don’t think that any of this high-speed trading business makes much of a difference. The whole matter of a penny here a penny there, to my knowledge (please correct me if I’m wrong), does not impact me on a day to day basis. The one exception, perhaps, being my retirement account.

You’re right though, the Internet is a great tool for many things — searching for pictures of cowboy dinosaurs and sharknados, or for keeping the masses cut off and oppressed. Given that, I certainly don’t think that one more micro- or nano-second is going to impact this, and it certainly isn’t going to, as impressive as it is, doesn’t make it any more or less intimidating – I still don’t want anything to do with it. To me, the NYSE, is very much a storied, faceless place, that means very little to me. I don’t fully understand what they do there, but it sounds like they’re doing it very fast, so more power to them!

I certainly don’t think, as impressive as it is, that high-speed trading will ever fully usurp the place of the human in all of this – at least not in my lifetime. There are still people out there who are more likely to invest money after meeting with a person and forming connections that aren’t possible on the Internet.

Will this change? It certainly might as the generation that values personal interaction over email and FaceTime leaves the workforce.

My biggest question is, why does this type of trading really matter? Who care? Is the middle-class american supposed to understand or care about this stuff?

// 06/06/2015 at 9:47 pm