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Utopia this way =>

// Posted by on 05/21/2015 (11:06 AM)

This weeks readings reflected on the transitions of The Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog was envisioned as a way to bring about a ‘wholeness’ of the earth and all its systems. It resembles an old mail order catalogue,… Read more

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This weeks readings reflected on the transitions of The Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog was envisioned as a way to bring about a ‘wholeness’ of the earth and all its systems. It resembles an old mail order catalogue, and contained information on how to maintain communes; the necessary tools that would be needed, and offered items such as potters’ wheels. The Catalog transitioned into the WELL, which is described as one of the first online communities. This shift marks a point in the separation of the utopian values from material practice.

Throughout the readings I felt myself rooting for the counterculture ideal of a shared consciousness, despite essentially knowing the anticipated outcome. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, if this ideal had triumphed how different would our lives have been? Would we have achieved utopia? I believe the potential was there. We can achieve so much as a group with a collaborative mindset; thinking about the sharing of knowledge that this counterculture was pursuing leaves me feeling like a great gift was just thrown aside.

The idea of alternative communities of kindred souls that could express themselves and develop and learn equivalent to a homeostat was profound. The belief that machine and man could coevolve to benefit each system, as a whole, was intense and inspiring.  As I was reading this, I was cheering them on and hopeful for their success. It was also interesting to read about the role of women on the WELL and the empowerment they felt as they glided across gender divides.

I don’t believe that the cyberculture revolution was completely unsuccessful in getting their ideal’s across as we do have the Internet. The Internet allows huge numbers of people from all over the planet to communicate and share knowledge. Relevant examples that come to mind are Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. In these realms people seem eager to share what they know and not claim ownership.  This shows that many of the same values of sharing and free information within the online community managed to carry over, and this online utopia is very different from the material practices that inspired it.


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Back to Nature: The Final Experience

// Posted by on 11/26/2014 (12:40 PM)

Well, believe it or not, this is it. It feels like it was just yesterday that we were on LA Live Chat talking about Digimon and Full House. Since then, we’ve had some great experiences, from the cybersecurity simulation to

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Well, believe it or not, this is it. It feels like it was just yesterday that we were on LA Live Chat talking about Digimon and Full House. Since then, we’ve had some great experiences, from the cybersecurity simulation to the digital divide experiment to the #CleanURlake movement. I remember the pressure that my group felt in putting together the second experience after Dr. Rosatelli covered the first; to have to move in a completely different direction, planning an activity without knowing exactly how it would turn out and to an extent setting the bar for groups to come was intimidating. But in actuality, there was no reason to harbor such fears, as the class grew with every experience. I had high hopes for how the experiences would turn out, when students used their creative abilities to put together a truly amazing, memorable experience that would leave a lasting message, but I could not have imagined they would be so effective a learning tool and so memorable in the long run. With such sweeping success as the backdrop, the group tasked with putting together the final project was under an enormous amount of pressure, just as my group was in putting together the first student-run experience. The only difference is that while the pressure we had felt was in setting the bar, the final experience had to manage to exceed the high level to which the bar had been raised over the past three months.
For the most part, the plan put forth for the final experience did commendably in meeting the high expectations, though it, like any other experience, did not go 100% perfectly or as intended. Nonetheless, the questions raised, as per usual, were immensely valuable and it is of the utmost importance that they be considered. In fact, this final unit as a whole pushes us to ask ourselves questions about what it means to be in the digital age, and whether the implications of that are as positive as we had always believed them to be. We began this course by experiencing the simple, transcendent joys of cyberutopianism. Now the veil is pulled back and we realize that everything is not what it seems, that these wonderful new digital technologies may not be as wonderful as we thought. But, lest I should digress, we will get to that a bit later. Before then, I want to analyze specifically this final experience and the questions raised and how it applies to the unit.
The intention of this experience was to gather students, simply enough, at the James River for a picnic; but as with every experience, there is always a catch. Luckily this time, the catch was not as stressful as—just as a hypothetical example—having to run to the law library to research digital copyright. The first half of the class involved simply sitting by the river and talking, while enjoying some delicious snacks, a pretty perfect experience on a sunny day with highs in the 70s. The catch, then, was that halfway through, our phones would be taken away, so that we could analyze how the conversation changed and discuss what that means for digital technologies and their impact on communication. It was a deceptively simple plan with very meaningful implications, but it did not completely work as planned, for several reasons.
As we were driving back to campus from the river and Emily explained the purpose of the experience and what she and her group had wanted us to take away from it, I realized that the conversation had not really changed too much—or not in a manner that could be easily and directly attributable to the presence or absence of our phones—and I began to think about the reasons why such might be the case. As I pointed out to the others, it is difficult to pull off such an experiment during the course of a class period, since the conversation we would be having would be different from any normal conversation, a form of class participation as opposed to merely a voluntary social encounter. The difference between the two must doubtless contribute to the discrepancy between expected results and the actual results. Speaking from experience, though I may from time to time pull my phone out in any normal conversation amongst friends, knowing that I was taking part in a class project shifted my attention and my focus solely to participating and being present, not distracted by my phone, which I figured would hurt my grade anyway. When the fear of a lower grade impedes the casual use of a cell phone, the results of such an experiment as laid out by the group will not be as intended.
This is not to say, however, that this experience was bad; because I was extremely impressed with the group’s ability to turn a simple picnic at the river into something much more meaningful. I am not honestly sure what more I could have thought up, and I am sure that the rest of the class would likely agree. Coming up with an experience is difficult enough in a normal classroom setting; having to do so at the river and make the setting seem logical as opposed to contrived is another challenge altogether, and I commend the group for managing to make it work as they did, even if the results, as I explained before, were not as expected, for a variety of factors including the matter of grading and class participation.
So what were the expected results? Perhaps before delving into that issue, it is important to understand the two texts underpinning these key questions about digital technologies and communication. Sherry Turkle contends in her op-ed “The Flight from Conversation” that while we may live in a “technological universe in which we are always communicating… we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection” and that we are now effectively “alone together.” She paints a disturbing picture of the twenty-first century landscape, in which friends and family members lose the ability to communicate face-to-face, eye-to-eye, in which they fall back upon the comfort of their phone to divert their attention from the uncomfortable nature of genuine conversation with another human being. As if her dystopian point of view were not terrifying enough, she writes of an encounter she witnessed between an elderly woman and a robot, and the fact that the woman was comforted by the machine. “[W]e… collectively seem to have embraced,” Turkle writes, “a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day.” To Turkle, such a development is an indication of the fact that humans may well have “lost confidence that we will be there for one another.” The ties that once bound humanity together in conversation now seem are now being broken by digitization.
Zeynep Tufekci disagrees. “Social-media users,” she insists, “are having more conversations with people—online and off!” In her estimation, the fears of individuals like Turkle are overblown. Digital technologies “are not displacing face-to-face socializing—on average, they are making them stronger.” For shy individuals, for instance, digitization opens new pathways to conversation that might not have been opened heretofore. Tufekci goes on to argue that minimizing the use of Facebook or Twitter might even leave a person at a “major disadvantage,” like someone who could not use the telephone in the late 20th century.
I would love to be able to stand on Tufekci’s side, as she offers such a beautifully idealistic vision of the digital age, but I cannot. I am in the Turkle camp. I recall vividly my first moments here on campus, at freshman orientation. We were grouped into orientation groups, and we would all eat meals together at the dining hall. It was an admittedly awkward experience, since I had nothing in common with most of these people. But whereas in a different decade I might have sucked it up and been forced to engage in dialogue with my peers, I took out my phone and texted. It was easier than looking up, making eye contact and small-talking my way into a conversation. And I wasn’t alone; everyone did the same. For the better part of a week, my meals consisted of getting together in a large group, sitting at a table together, and then taking out our phones and ignoring each other throughout the meal. We truly were alone together.
It is a terribly depressing viewpoint, and I am loath to consider the world so darkly, but to some extent it’s undeniable that Turkle is right. The human connections we once shared and valued in our society have been undone and superseded to a degree by connections with digital technologies and artificial intelligence. Tufekci insists when we text or use iMessage, we are talking to a real person, as opposed to a bot, and she’s right; but what is the difference? When conversing on iMessage, some of the most pivotal components of genuine communication are eschewed, from eye contact to body language. Even phone calls, which eschew those components as well, enable an understanding and exercise of meaningful tone of voice instead of the cold monotony of a text message. When someone texts you “Okay,” do you know how they’re feeling? That message can be placed in context to help understand the feelings, but the true emotional connection, communicated through tone, is gone. A person might as well be communicating with a bot at that point, and that’s the disturbing point here. Tufekci insists that for “shy” individuals, these digital technologies enable a healthy alternative to face-to-face communication, but I don’t see it that way. Text messaging is barely human communication, so should we be justifying it as an alternative to actual conversation and socialization, and—as I am wont to ask— what are the implications?
I have written rather extensive responses, and my response to this unit, and just the core questions raised by the Turkle/Tufekci debate, could be longer than all of my previous responses combined, but I think it’s wise to temper my loquaciousness and keep this at a moderate length. Nonetheless, I do want to elaborate on the wrongness of Tufekci’s assertions, from personal experience, and I want to return to some of the early ideas we discussed, specifically regarding social networking.
danah boyd in “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately” analyzes the context collapse of the Internet and the imagined audience on social networking mediums like Twitter and Facebook. Imagined audiences and “authenticity,” boyd finds, are extremely subjective notions. How can we possibly aim at our tweets and Facebook posts at every group of individuals who will read them? Though outside of the digital realm, in the confines of the physical, we are able to change the way we communicate based upon the context in which we find ourselves, the Internet leaves us with a far more trying task, of convincing a litany of diverse individuals to interpret our posts as authentic. I find almost everything about this discussion to be troubling, for reasons so wide-reaching and intimidatingly broad in scope that I will not attempt to handle each and every point.
I am a conscientious objector when it comes to social networking. I tweet for the Digital America Journal, but that’s the extent of my involvement in Twitter or Facebook. I avoid them like the plague, and though I once used Snapchat, I have also turned away from “selfies,” embarrassed that I ever indulged that side of myself. When boyd discusses the fact that we change our personalities based on those by whom we are surrounded at a certain point in time, that only serves to affirm my position that social networking is far from the positive force it is so often purported to be. There is a sort of superficiality to contemporary communication, perhaps not unlike the communication seen in previous decades and centuries, but the notion that an individual can be one person at one moment and another the next seems inherently inauthentic. In fact, considering the way humans go about communicating, and the manner in which social networking has served to bolster those practices, I would question whether authenticity is even an achievable end, or simply an artificial allusion towards which narcissistic social networkers work.
Yes, narcissism. This specific facet of my beliefs on social networking is one that has at times gotten me into some trouble with my girlfriend, but she probably won’t read this… I abstain from social networking largely because of the narcissism of it all. In her research, boyd does not ask why these Twitter users believe they deserve followers. She does not ask why these Twitter users have an imagined audience, as if they were the performers, meant to be the center of other individuals’ attention. I said in class that mediums of online social networking are inherently selfish, but I was wrong. I am not a technological determinist; I do not see the Internet as inherently democratic, and I don’t see social networking sites as inherently narcissistic. So I corrected my statement. Humans are inherently narcissistic. It’s not that our self-centered nature emerged from a vacuum, suddenly manifesting itself as an unprecedented phenomenon due to the Internet and these websites. Human narcissism has always been evident, from cave paintings to scrolls to The Catcher in the Rye, and now, to Facebook pages. I’m making quite the statement here, and it requires an extensive sociological examination that would take away from the central focus of this response, but at least that’s an idea to chew on for a bit. What matters is that regardless of the historical context in which this selfishness emerges, it has emerged, and we must ask ourselves what this means for humanity. Further, we must ask why we should indulge it with social networking accounts.
On a surface level, one could confuse Twitter or Facebook for something substantially more other-directed. For those who “lurk” on these sites, simply monitoring what is occurring in the lives of their friends and acquaintances, such actions could not be narcissistic, could they? In fact, I would contend they are. When we “lurk,” are we doing so out of a genuine care and concern for the lives of others, or are we doing so because we want something to which to aspire? Even worse, are we doing so because we want to feel better about ourselves? When we see images of students with whom we graduated high school and they are a drunken mess or have a baby, do we secretly feel better about ourselves? Does it boost our morale to see another individual brought down to earth? Is “lurking” really any better than seeking out attention with superfluous posts and extensive collections of selfies? And what about online activism? Isn’t that most certainly other-directed? Certainly, while no answer here should be construed from an amalgam of generalizations, I would like to think movements like Kony 2012 would have been more successful, rather than fizzling out in the course of a couple of months. Do social networkers have a serious commitment to the causes they follow or post about online, or is that, too, a selfish social statement?
I see social competition in everything that we do, a sort of false socialization that serves not to bring people closer, but to push them apart. From boys at the University of Richmond working out rigorously to tacit competitions to gain the most followers with beautiful Instagram images edited so meticulously as to remove any sense of authentic—there’s that word again—imperfect life and warmth. While much of this competition is unavoidable, I go out of my way to avoid those that are not, and social networking is one of them. I have no interest in competing with someone who pretends to be my friend for the purposes of proving that my Instagram pictures are the nicest, or my tweets are the wittiest, or my Facebook profile preferences are the most sophisticated. I have no interest in making posts to prove that my life is fun and that other people should be envious and want to be me. I enjoy life and I do so on my own terms, without the paranoid need to show it off to the world, and it puts me at no disadvantage contrary to Tufekci’s concerns. I occasionally hear about friends who post images on Facebook of their significant others and they share all of these special moments of their lives, and that is great, but they should have put the phone down and enjoyed a beautiful moment in life without thinking about their phones or about showing it off to anyone else. Turkle really is correct; digital technologies have pervaded our lives to an unhealthy and unfortunate extent.
That pervasion was as clearly evident in this experience as it is in real life, but that is not to say that the experience failed to raise the important questions. Obviously, it has raised those questions, and then some. Do conversations outside of the classroom change thanks to the presence of phones? Absolutely. Pregnant pauses end up being covered up by the tapping of thumbs against phone screens. Glances are diverted away from one another and towards the empty images on our iPhones, and silence overtakes the whole conversation.
And ultimately, that’s where the bigger picture comes into play, not only with regards to the negative implications of the digital age for communication, but the negative implications for everything.
What, for example, does social networking and digitization mean for the basic right to privacy? Anders Albrechtslund contends that “surveillance… is fundamentally social,” that as humans we have a natural propensity towards the surveillance of one another and the enabling of others to engage in surveillance of their own. Though I never like to assume I know better than anyone else—especially a scholar with years of research, training, and experience—I cannot agree with his assessment, which arguably misconstrues socialization, defining it erroneously in a manner that betrays a sort of misunderstanding of the term itself. The concept of socialization should be broken into two basic spheres: indeed, there is a sort of surveillance component—if we wish to call it surveillance—in which private information is willingly shared and disseminated. But Albrechtslund’s thesis falls apart there, because he stops at surveillance and ignores an equally pivotal component: privacy. Just as every individual has a right to share information about their lives in the social sphere, so too do they have a right to keep certain information hidden, and no one can argue that social networking sites are promoting such privacy rights. Reading through Twitter’s privacy policy, several points become clear. “We collect and use your information below to provide our Services and to measure and improve them over time.” In other words, Twitter takes your private information, grants access to that information to third-party enterprises and makes advertisements more personalized. Improving and measuring services sounds so much better than tracking your information to customize ads. But here’s the real kicker: The notion that Twitter and other social networks are merely selling you a product is wrong. Twitter is selling you, because you are the product. Certainly, such an invasion of privacy is not respectful to the foundations of true, positive socialization. I am sure that Albrechtslund would not endeavor to justify the surveillance of a large corporation as opposed to other individuals, but the problem with social networking is that the surveillance cannot be controlled. Your information can be accessed by anyone, from credit card information to Social Security numbers to the number of drinks you had at that party last Friday, and that neither respects privacy rights nor what it means to socialize healthily. A balance must be carefully maintained, and digital technologies are failing to do so.
And then there are the physical implications of digitization, and this is a compelling argument I had never before considered, but it is of utmost importance and must therefore enter the national—and international—dialogue. As Giles Slade argues in “Made to Break,” computers, phones, and other digital technologies constitute a contemporary form of the decades-old practice of planned obsolescence. Sure, we understand that every September, Apple is going to come out with the next iPhone, barely any different from the year prior, and millions upon millions of iPhones will be exchanged, but we don’t really know what happens next. We don’t understand that those phones are actually toxic and go somewhere—or maybe we just don’t want to. My phone, if I chose to recycle it or trade it in, would go to Ghana or Delhi or Guiyu, China, where children would burn it to extract the metals, all the while coming into contact with materials that are toxic and deadly and scar their skin. The difference between me and the rest of the population is that I will milk this phone for all it’s worth, until the iPhone 10 is released and I am carrying the equivalent of an old brick phone, and that is fine with me. Even afterwards I will not trade it in or recycle it, now that I know where it will go, but in time, this phone has to go somewhere; it cannot stay with me forever, and the fact of the matter is that the product design itself and the materials used to create it are not conducive to a healthy environment. What will decades of this abuse do to our environment, and how can we let it happen? Further, how can we ignore the bloody wars taking place in the Congo over the mineral Coltan, necessary to construct our precious devices? If we express such revulsion at the concept of blood diamonds, how can we use these blood devices, that have cost so many Africans their lives?
As a means to the end of solving the problems with smart phones, Google is working on Project Ara, to design a phone in which all the parts are interchangeable and only the pieces need to be replaced, not the phone itself. Is it a noble intention? I would assume, lest I should begin to cynically doubt their motivations, but will it work to solve any of these problems? No. Those pieces will take up less space in the dangerously makeshift landfill they will inhabit in China or India, but they will nonetheless stack up, continuing to pose a threat to the environment. They will continue to incorporate Coltan, relying on the mineral that has proven so deadly for the Congo. No problems will be solved, but the phone will look nice and sound nice enough, and money will be made.
This is really the culmination of a major shift I have experienced during the course of this class. I came in—in all honesty—considering digitization with contempt, looking down on smart phones and social networking. The idealism and the cyberutopianism of the first unit got me thinking that maybe I was wrong; maybe the Internet can be a transcendent place where individuals can come together and socialize and find greater meaning and make something amazing out of a blank canvas. It was very exciting, especially after the positive experiences in the LA Live Chat room. But unit two changed things. Suddenly, these technologies seemed to have troubling implications with regards to our privacy—that would be the first time that idea popped up, but as you know from reading this response, it would not be the last—and our security. Unit three really shifted my thinking by raising awareness of the naiveté inherent in “New Economy” ideologies and cyberlibertarianism as practiced in fiscal policy. Allowing corporations to run amok online—and offline—has had startlingly negative repercussions for this country, and it certainly has not democratized as promised. By unit four, then, I was jaded and began to turn against the Internet once again. I doubted that cyberactivism would ever accomplish any of the ends towards which it is used to work, and now, in unit five, I have come full circle.
I do not mean to make it sound as though this class affirmed my dislike of digital technologies and provided no fuller context. In fact, while I am lukewarm on any cyberutopian notions, I still do see glimpses of hope. Perhaps one of those glimpses is inherent in the fact that so many of the problems that have manifested themselves in the digital age are problems that manifested themselves in different ways in different times. When Mark Poster in Information Please speaks of materialism, he writes that “without media the activity of consumption and the figure of the consumer do not take on their current status as major aspects of social life,” but he paints a more hopeful picture for digital media. “Digital media,” he writes, “radically transform both the cultural object and the subject position of the consumer” (244). By rendering the consumer a “user,” and by enabling all users to become creators of cultural objects—through mimicry or alteration of existing objects, or even creation of their own—the Internet opens the doorway to a new form of consumerism so liberating in nature as to lend itself to something other than consumerism, a system in which consumers become creators. Copyright laws, he contends, have been put in place to defend the established consumerist norms; so is the problem really digital media, or the laws that serve to minimize the freedoms of Internet users?
The consumerist society in which we live is one that has been created by conditions that existed before digital media, and conditions that may well exist if we reach a technological point at which we transcend cyberspace. Consumerism, materialism, and planned obsolescence are not created by the Internet. Narcissism is not created by Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat. Economic inequality is not created by a digitalized economy. Abusive government oversight is not a product of the Internet. A weakening of communication skills and a lessening of true socialization is not merely created by the digital age. The Internet is not inherently democratic—or inherently ANYTHING—but it does have the potential to do good if we use it that way, and perhaps that is what I didn’t understand coming into the class; but I recognize it now. If we used the Internet correctly, if we reignited our zeal for activism, for engagement that effects a true change, as opposed to giving into slacktivism and meaningless support for subsequently short-lived movements, if we became more informed about consumerism and planned obsolescence and where our phone pieces came from and where they’re going, if we thought more consciously about the implications of our social networking, and if we fought for privacy rights, could it be a positive force?
I may be leaving the class with feelings similar to those I harbored going in, but that ignores the fuller picture. I needed to experience the full-circle shift over the course of the semester. I needed to see the bright side, the hopeful roots of our society’s techno-optimism, needed to start buying in, and then I needed to have the rug pulled out from underneath me. I needed to see the real reasons why cyberutopianism is so likely an impossible ideal. I needed to recognize more deeply why I opposed digitization in some of the forms it takes. I came in resentful of social networking, fearing the Internet, but not always understanding why. Now I leave understanding the negative implications in a political sense, an economic sense, an environmental sense, in terms of privacy rights, in terms of human rights—a term which perhaps should not even be used if you are in the Poster camp—in terms of activism. I understand on a broader scale what is wrong with digitization; but I also understand what is right. I understand why there is reason to have hope, why not everything is bleak.
As a nation and as an international community we should be engaging in a dialogue—enabled by the Internet no less—about the positives and negatives of digitization, where it will lead us if we continue on our current trajectory. But first, we have to put down our phones for a minute, return to nature, remember where it all came from, where we were before modern technological advancements. Maybe have a picnic by the river.
Sorry if the spacing is off; for some reason this won’t allow me to leave extra space between paragraphs… And for my documentation, here is my final YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLnhjpfTqsk

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Final Project Research — Cyberutopianism and Politics

// Posted by on 11/12/2014 (4:34 PM)

12/2:

I have received some really great feedback via my survey and I am ready to begin finalizing my project. I have known that I would be able to leave early, not having any final exams, so I began work… Read more

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12/2:

I have received some really great feedback via my survey and I am ready to begin finalizing my project. I have known that I would be able to leave early, not having any final exams, so I began work on a rough draft for the final essay before the Thanksgiving break. At that point I had done enough research to be in a position in which I could begin laying the groundwork for a final piece. Much of the research below was done as I continued working on the piece and was tailored so as to fit the research that I needed to connect some of the puzzle pieces–metaphorically speaking. I submitted a rough draft to Dr. Rosatelli last Tuesday and she let me know that it was in good shape and that I would simply need to wait for feedback and keep updating the research. I did so, finding another counterpoint to Adrian Chen’s anti-Anonymous fervor, as well as the centrist angle from Time. I also needed updated figures for spending on the 2014 midterms, and that is reflected below. Besides that, I really wanted to wait and see what my classmates had to say about my presentation, which was largely my essay in a presentation format. Their responses were great. All five agreed that the topic was relevant to them, which was good. I needed to make sure that I expressed the fact that this matters for us, and I think it is apparent that I did. The second question is the one where obviously there is room for improvement, as 2 students felt that I only gave somewhat of a call to action. One commented that there wasn’t a clear idea of what our response should be, and the other said that he/she wasn’t sure how he/she could personally respond. I think I am understanding where these two students are coming from, and so I have a plan of action ready to fix this. I think that simply explaining that third party candidates have a better chance of winning doesn’t necessarily convince an audience that by rallying around an independent candidate and rejecting the corporatized two-party structure, we will make a difference. So I want to give a real example of a third-party candidate who had a great shot at winning and ultimately only lost because of higher-than-expected Republican turnout, and that is Greg Orman, who was such a dominant Independent candidate in Kansas that the Democratic candidate dropped out (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/09/the-mystery-candidate-shaking-up-kansas-politics/380856/?single_page=true). A third-party candidate, with no allegiance to either side and less financial backing than Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts nonetheless gave the incumbent a run for his money, claiming over 42% of the vote and, while still losing, proved that independent candidates will be a force to be reckoned with going forward. That’s something we have to keep in mind, and though it seems broad to simply advocate siding with third parties instead of condoning the actions of the Democrats and Republicans, I think that if we do engage to research independent candidates and if we engage actively in campaigning and getting out the word, and if those candidates can be afforded some semblance of resources, as was Orman, they’ve got a great shot. Politics takes a lot of work, and those answers aren’t always directly evident, and I think that’s a bit of a challenge in this instance, for students to understand HOW to make it work, but that would necessitate a lengthy political explanation that would probably detract from my central focus, so my hope is to provide a call-to-action to look to independent candidates while understanding that there is a real-world parallel, that this is not some over-idealistic message, and that we can elect third-party candidates if we put in the effort that Orman’s camp put in and if we can capitalize on the historically low approval ratings for the GOP and Democratic Party. I hope with a real example that becomes much clearer. But on an extra-political level, I understand that there was some confusion as to what I meant when discussing the formation of new organizations. Again, I cannot necessarily provide a handbook for how to create an activist organization, as I have never done so and am not really sure how you go about doing that, but what I can provide is an example of a real organization working today that is working against many of the evils of which I spoke, and that is the Free Press Organization. I recently found out about them while reading some random news and found the website for their “Free the Internet” movement: http://www.savetheinternet.com/sti-home … I was skeptical. This group, I thought, must be backed by some large corporations, but in fact, it refuses to take a cent from any corporations, from the government, or from political parties: https://freepress.actionkit.com/donate/single/ … I was still skeptical, so I turned to Opensecrets.org, and found that the group does a very small amount of lobbying, and looked into the two bills for which it lobbied: http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientissues.php?id=D000051085&year=2013 . One was a law that would allow TV service providers to provide a la carte programming and the other was simply a law that cemented how military spending would look for the year 2014: https://www.congress.gov/113/bills/s912/BILLS-113s912is.pdf and https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/2397. I’m not really sure why it would lobby for a bill that was pretty straightforward and simply established how military spending would be allocated for the year, and I will keep my eyes open for any information indicating why, but nonetheless, both seem like harmless pieces of legislation for which to lobby, compared to something like an Internet Sales Tax law. The group’s lobbying efforts are minor, however, compared to the grassroots movement it is leading in favor of Net Neutrality, and this is where I am truly impressed by the group. It is partially cyberlibertarian in nature, but by refusing to accept corporate cash (which I would believe since its lobbying is minor due to lower fiduciary reserves, as Opensecrets’ figures reflect), it reflects the balance of which I spoke in the presentation, balancing an understanding of the importance of an egalitarian Web (i.e. Net Neutrality) with the understanding that regulation–online and offline–is always necessary and that corporations are not inherently a force for good. That is lost in translation with a group like Anonymous, which while anti-corporate is so anarchic and contradictory that any positive balance is lost and the whole ideology comes across as horribly destructive, which it largely is. Hopefully with a real example of an organization that we could stand behind, it becomes clear that Free Press is one of countless organizations out there that we could endorse as citizens. I also, however, do want to emphasize the importance of the fact that perhaps the organization that we must support does not yet exist, and that’s where the self-exploration comes in. I cannot tell you how to start a successful movement, but I can tell you we’ve been given some of the keys to it thus far, and that becoming informed truly is the first step to understanding how to move forward in such an endeavor. In such  way, I think that providing real world examples will be the most appropriate response to the concerns raised, reminding students that my suggestions are not vague, idealistic fantasies, but realistic visions, that my call to action is to become informed, to learn what the next steps are, and to realize the foundation has been set for us to take those steps. All students agreed the material was obviously important, and for that I was thankful. They also all agreed that signs of research were abundantly evident, and that was great, because I have felt I’ve done well in that regard, but I wanted to make sure. The only other concern that was raised was raised at the very end, with a suggestion to define some of the terms of which I speak/write. I am not too worried about this, because I only cut out the definitions due to time restraints, since I had planned a 15-minute presentation but had to fit it into 10. I couldn’t allow for all of the exposition that I wanted and instead had to give a bit of a broader overview. The paper, I am sure, gives a much more thorough definition to the terms, even ones that we have discussed, as I always like to write a paper under the assumption that anyone who reads it would be clueless about the topic (this is not a jab at Dr. Rosatelli so much as a simple philosophy on writing!). I am immensely thankful for the feedback and will be making the revisions mentioned above to the paper. It will be all the stronger as a result, and I am very confident and pleased with how the final project will turn out. I cannot thank my peers enough for their responses and suggestions, and if anyone has any other ideas that they would like to share, I am receptive as always and would not mind listening. I hope that what I have outlined here makes sense as a reasonable solution to the concerns raised, and I am excited to submit a final product that has undone the errors of my earlier drafts and does justice to the topic at hand.

11/30:

http://www.businessinsider.com/good-hacks-by-anonymous-2013-4?op=1 … This is a bit of a rebuke of Adrian Chen’s anti-Anonymous spin, since it was suggested I try to get some differing opinions on the matter besides just Quinn Norton’s one example. It is particularly helpful in discussing the fact that the group took down white supremacist radio host Hal Turner in 2006 (yes, I know this was discussed in the documentary, but I forgot about it until I read this article). The article also notes that Anonymous took down the Westboro Baptist Church’s website in 2011, and that is a bit of a rebuke of the notion that Anonymous has a bad record on racial and LGBTQ issues (even though, for the most part, it does). The article gives eight examples of positive efforts from Anonymous, but those two are the most important and relevant for my paper.

http://time.com/3148925/ferguson-michael-brown-anonymous/ … This article is not entirely pro-Anonymous; it is more centrist in nature, simply explaining the situation with Anonymous and its involvement in Ferguson. It is significant for several reasons… 1. It notes that the group is intervening in Ferguson to push the federal government to pass legislation that would more strictly regulate police conduct (a good thing), 2. They don’t know how many Anonymous members are in Ferguson or working on behalf of the efforts in Ferguson (not necessarily a good thing), and 3. A group member had previously misidentified the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, so how can we trust information we get from them, and how do we know they are reliable in any respect?

https://www.opensecrets.org/overview/cost.php … This is an update of the spending on the 2014 midterms, since I didn’t quite update those figures as much as I could have; this will be very helpful and provide the timeliest, most accurate statistics.

11/23:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/21/how-citizens-united-changed-politics-in-6-charts/ … This is an important story from the standpoint that it informs my discussion of how cyberutopian faith in a deregulation economy would influence the deregulation of corporate involvement in the political system, and how each side is now exploiting cyberutopianism and the belief in the Internet and the “New Economy” as something inherently democratic to promote further a culture of corporatism and increased donations in an era in which corporate money is becoming all the more necessary to ensuring victory in elections. That then sets the stage for my discussion of the artificial, profit-driven exploitation of cyberutopianism versus the more genuine but more troubling digital utopianism of Anonymous and the political movement in which it is a central figure.

The way my paper should turn out at the moment is an introduction describing the shift of cyberutopianism ideals from left-leaning counterculturists to the right-wing, libertarian coalition of New Communalists and the New Right, and then explaining the culture of deregulation that was created by the notion of a “New Economy” and the inherently democratizing power of the Internet, then describing Citizens United in that context and how it changed the relationship between Washington and corporate powers, and explaining what that means for cyberutopianism as a political ideal and the fact that both sides use it merely as a means to a money-central end, and then moving discussion to Anonymous as a major digital-utopian force outside of the two-party structure and the troubling implications of standing by them. Ultimately the discussion will culminate in the question of which side we choose to stand on in light of the new political order created by the cyberutopian libertarianism of the New Economy and the excessive corporatism and contradiction of democratic values inherent therein.

11/22:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYqYkdyW0t0&feature=youtu.be … I found this video in a quick Google News search for Anonymous and saw that they are declaring a cyberwar on the KKK… This is very interesting because the Nation article I cited a few days ago clearly argues that the organization is NOT the anti-racist organization it purports itself to be. This would be interesting to juxtapose with a more realistic and thorough depiction of the group’s history…

http://web.archive.org/web/20080824174022/http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/Net_users_insist_its_joke.html… This is a description of the group’s Habbo Hotel raid in 2006, in which they sent messages like “Pool’s Closed due to AIDS” while playing as black avatars and forming a swastika, something they insist was not intended to in any way be racist, even though, as the article points out, its native 4Chan is “peppered with homophobic and racist comments.” In 2008, several Anonymous group members hung a sign with the same black Habbo avatar that read “Pool Closed” as a joke intended to keep black children away from the pool, even though the group insisted the joke was in no way intended to promote bigotry, saying that the joke was merely “an Internet fad.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasperhamill/2013/10/23/is-anonymous-suffering-an-identity-crisis/ … Further discussion of the multitudinous contradictions inherent in Anonymous and its “identity crisis.” It basically just bolsters most of the arguments I’ve made up to this point.

11/19:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/06/occupy-wall-street-protesters_n_999289.html … This article intrigues me from the standpoint that on a fiscal level, Occupy is taking a direct stance against both parties, insisting that both Democrats and Republicans have served to enhance corporate power. Now I am going to look for stories that relate to the concept of the “New Economy” in relation to the Democrats and Republicans and I’m looking for information that hopefully should pin down a trend of both sides actually feeding into New Economy ideals in some way, as I did to a lesser extent in previous entries.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/11/12/bad-news-for-amazon-as-boehner-kills-the-online-sales-tax/ … This is yet another interesting article from the standpoint that a bill putting in place an Internet sales tax was supported by Amazon as a means of competing against physical retailers, even though it would require Amazon products to be taxed, undoing the unfair advantage that online retailers have. It is a complicated economic reasoning, but long story short, the company knows that an Internet sales tax would hurt smaller online retailers more, giving them an advantage on the online marketplace. The article notes that most Democrats supported the Internet sales tax, which actually indicates that Democrats are not for a completely free and open Internet. In this way, I wonder if fiscally, in terms of the New Economy, our discussion of politics in the digital realm will make a bit more sense, as opposed to the ideas regarding cultural objects and the freedom thereof online. Republicans theoretically remain cyber-libertarians in terms of fiscal issues, with House Speaker John Boehner having shot down the sales tax legislation and other Republicans, like Ted Cruz (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-18/ted-cruz-wants-to-stop-bipartisan-internet-sales-taxation-bill.html) opposing it as well. But here’s where things get confusing, as always: Cruz insists that the legislation is a result of the lobbying of large corporations, and while it seems like a hypocritical excuse from a party with support from large corporations, it does offer a reminder that economically speaking, we have two parties that are very much taking support from corporate entities and this cyber-economics discussion isn’t even that clear-cut politically speaking. As the Bloomberg article above points out, this sales tax was also supported by Wal-Mart, and they are one of the largest lobbying organizations in the world (https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000367)… So economically speaking, this is a very confusing political discussion. While Republicans are taking millions of dollars from corporations like Wal-Mart in their fight against the minimum wage, Democrats are taking millions from Wal-Mart in their fight for an Internet sales tax. Democrats seem to be playing hardball with corporations, but is that the full picture? Absolutely not. Each party’s platform seems to be in line with how we would assume they should vote on these key issues: Democrats support taxes online, and Republicans oppose it. The former is anti-corporation, the latter pro-. But that’s not an adequate picture, and while this reflects equally on politics outside of the digital realm, it has serious implications in the digital realm as well. And let’s move away from party leaders altogether and look at party members, because there are some interesting things to note here, as well, going back to some of my early findings on Net Neutrality, an issue with economic repercussions… http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/11/12/wonkbook-polling-shows-even-republicans-overwhelmingly-support-net-neutrality/ … According to this poll from The Washington Post, both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose Net Neutrality. And if that isn’t confusing enough, let’s consider why on earth the Republican Party would remain so firmly opposed to Net Neutrality if 81% of Americans disagree. It might seem that the GOP remains dependent on contributions from cable companies, but Comcast–by a slim margin–gives more to Democratic recipients than to Republican recipients (https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/toprecips.php?id=D000000461&cycle=2014)… So whose side are they on? Well, both the easy answer and the complicated answer is the same: they’re on their own side. As the Forbes article–which is written by a conservative–explains, these corporations are simply pushing for any policies that benefit them. If a Democrat is going to support legislation that benefits their economic interests, they will reciprocate with donations and support. And that’s where the complicated nature of all this becomes abundantly clear. No longer can we simply say that one side is more pro-corporate than the other, because both are receiving millions upon millions of dollars from these entities. In many ways, the advent of the Internet and the digital sphere has merely complicated matters even more, with issues like Net Neutrality and the Internet sales tax elucidating the fact that fiscal politics in the digital age are no longer so black-and-white.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/response/protecting-our-artists-and-entrepreneurs-innovation-economy … This is a bit of a different issue altogether, but I just found this, and I think this is one of the more interesting points to make. This is an official White House response to a petition calling for more lenient copyright laws. The White House actually responds at the above link and calls for more regulations on copyright infringement and enhanced financial penalties for those who fail to comply with the law. This is so fascinating, because it affirms President Obama, a Democratic leader, as being in line with the GOP in opposing copyright infringement and further opposing any legislation that would make copyright more lenient. Both sides–or at least the leadership thereof–support enhanced copyright legislation and oppose the more cyber-libertarian approach embodied by Lessig. Again, this gets confusing because Lessig’s Mayday PAC gave mostly to Democrats, in spite of this support for copyright. It is also confusing because, as this Newsweek article (http://www.newsweek.com/art-steal-copyright-retreat-283118) points out, many Silicon Valley companies actually support free cultural objects online since it attracts consumers to purchase digital devices. So many of the largest corporations in the world have reason to support more lenient approaches to copyright, and do support more lenient approaches, but that isn’t reflected in the actions of the Democrats or the GOP. I suppose perhaps they can rely more on the support of other corporations. But really, that’s a key point here: principle isn’t guiding cyber-politics, let alone politics itself; money is. This cannot be defined in terms of politics because of the money that is guiding the decisions of each party. Each side takes the stance it needs to to ensure the continued support of the corporations upon which it relies for donations and lobbying cash. But what does that mean for a post-political organization like Anonymous? If anything, it reflects a sort of fatigue with corporate-led politics, and subsequently can explain some of the group’s anarchic proclivities, but it leaves us with a really tough question. As voters, who do we turn to? How can we turn to Anonymous if it so fervently stands behind cyber policies so lenient as to be considered anarchic, and if so many of its members have proven to be misogynistic, racist, homophobic, etc? Anonymous is one of the leading forces in the push against the government’s crony capitalism, but should we be siding with them? If we don’t, who do we side with? Both parties are making decisions based on money, especially in terms of digital issues. Neither is necessarily a defender of cyberutopianism on every issue, only the ones that can generate support and donations. Certainly no one could support that, so voters who oppose corporate influence on government are left in a position, very much reflected in cyber politics, in which we really can’t support one side or the other. Nonetheless, each side is leading us forward into a post-political age in which we see our beliefs not in a spectrum and we see conflict not taking place between two very different parties so much as we see two similar parties in a fight against cyber-libertarian groups that are so radically cyberutopian that they call for anarchy. At least that’s what I’m seeing in my findings… Alarming.

11/17:

http://www.thenation.com/article/158974/accelerated-grimace-cyber-utopianism … This is fascinating because it is an openly left-wing critique of cyber-utopianism from the viewpoint that it conflates things like “crowdsourcing” in the “New Economy” with digital sharecropping, or even digital plantations and suggests heavily that cyber-utopianism has its roots in libertarian ideologies, which it does, again making this issue even more confusing. How did cyber-utopianism begin as something advocated by libertarian conservatives like Newt Gingrich and end up wielded by Anonymous, a perhaps anarchic group that leans any which way but right? It is also interesting to note that Anonymous, while extremely averse to conservatism, in embracing anarchism, embraces a small-government (in their case, a no-government) approach to politics that is almost a form of extreme libertarianism, closer to the right wing than the left. Yet the actions they take, like protesting Arizona’s immigration legislation or fighting Ugandan homophobia, show that they are not on the right at all. It could simply boil down to the fact that Anonymous, one of the leading powerhouses in contemporary cyberutopian political thought, is an anarchic organization, or is post-political as I had first believed. I am starting to lean towards the former as opposed to the latter, which perhaps will cement my paper as an explanation of the evolution of cyberutopianism and the fact that we should be careful to buy into the ideology now that it may have anarchistic repercussions.

11/16:

http://www.thenation.com/article/190369/truth-about-anonymouss-activism?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow# … What fascinates me is the extent to which this article emphasizes the ways in which Anonymous is far from a liberal organization, even though you have people like Quinn Norton talking about the group like it is in this piece: http://newint.org/features/2012/12/01/anonymous-into-politics/ … Anonymous hacked the Ugandan government websites to protest its homophobic legislation, yet post horribly homophobic statements online… They also protested Arizona’s strict immigration laws, which could reasonably be viewed as a rather liberal move, since the legislation was from conservatives. And notably, some also insist they helped make Occupy what it was–another liberal movement. But actions taken and comments posted online show a refusal to adhere to even the liberal ideas that they sometimes defend. Yes, we must first consider the group’s horizontalism and the fact that there is no central leadership, but even so, the group almost seems to be anti-everything, except perhaps anarchy, which is a scary thing. This is where the idea of cyberutopianism comes in, as Anonymous seems to believe that with a free and open Internet, all people could coexist and perhaps we wouldn’t even need governments. Cyberutopianism as embodied by Anonymous has essentially manifested itself as something that places its trust so excessively in the Internet as to advocate perhaps for the dissolution of governments, if it is even fighting for any larger goal at all. And, ultimately, that is the question. Is Anonymous fighting for anything in the end, or is it just fighting AGAINST everything? But the group in general, so horizontalist as to offer a multitude of contradictions in its ideology, does indeed seem to be–if not anarchist–then firmly post-political, as the Nation article seems to intimate… “Coleman sees Anonymous as part of a great geek political awakening, along with Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, the Pirate Party and Debian programmers, ‘clearly part of a wellspring of hackers and geeks who were taking political matters into their own hands and making their voices heard.’” … The common thread between them is digital utopianism, and if Anonymous represents anything about this new counterculture, this cyberutopian movement, it is the post-political nature of it all… Paragraph about Fred Turner’s argument is vital. The predominantly liberal counterculture marked a substantial change in American politics once the New Communalists put forth their vision of new societies away from the masses, in their return to nature. But as those communes collapsed, they turned to the Internet that they had begun to romanticize, and it’s easy to see that that is where Anonymous is now: they have set up camp away from the rest of society, in the confines of the Internet, hidden away in places like 4Chan, still holding that unending faith in the cyberutopian potential of the Internet, carrying on the message of Wired and other products of the New Communalists and their so-called “techno-optimism.” And this is where it gets really confusing, because they are indeed carrying on that message, which is starkly libertarian in nature. If Anonymous is anarchist, or apolitical, or even slightly left-leaning if you view it more ideally like Norton, how does that reconcile with its fundamental libertarianism? It doesn’t… Once again we come to the same sort of conclusion, that Anonymous, the 21st-century manifestation of the New Communalists and cyberutopian thought, is the embodiment of the post-political world.

11/12:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/10/statement-president-net-neutrality … This is very interesting from the standpoint that President Obama makes a statement that the Internet is one of the greatest gifts to our economy… That’s a very “New Economy,” cyber-libertarian stance from a Democratic President. He directly refers to the Internet as one of the most democratizing forces the world has ever known, which is fascinating because it takes the digital determinist stance of finding the Internet to be inherently democratic… Rather cyberutopian thinking.

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/2014-elections-mayday-pac-larry-lessig-112617.html … I first heard about this PAC from a Politico story I had to analyze for my News Media and Society class and knew this would relate. Again, we see an instance of a cyberutopian individual–cyberutopian in the thinking that if reforms are made, the Internet can be a liberating force–who is standing by mostly Democrats (and in the context of this specific election cycle, failing as a result) and putting forth a pretty anti-libertarian message of “no big money in politics.” Lessig, who we have talked about in class before, was once a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of which Esther Dyson was a member as well… The same Esther Dyson whose “Magna Carta” was endorsed by Newt Gingrich and accepted by the GOP… So Lessig, whose conception of a free Internet has a proclivity to fall under the distinction of cyber-libertarianism, has been pushing for a fiscally anti-libertarian policy, removing big money from politics. Is there a difference between libertarianism “IRL” and online? (Sorry, I’m thinking out loud and droning, but if people like Tufecki, a cyber-libertarian, insist that digital dualism is false, then cyber-libertarianism is no different from actual libertarianism… Correct? Does this make any sense? So is Tufecki wrong? This is pretty off-topic, but it’s just so complicated and confusing.)

http://time.com/3578255/conservatives-net-neutrality-poll/ … Here’s where it gets interesting, because after all this discussion of the fact that Democrats seem to be pretty cyberutopian and support Net Neutrality and such, we find this, from Time Magazine, and this suggests that the vast majority of conservatives in this country (4 out of 5) support Net Neutrality, even though their party leaders may not. So clearly, the cyberutopian ideal of a free and open Internet is not something that is isolated to one party or another, and that’s vital to understand if I’m talking about how cyberutopianism is no longer only endorsed by one party over the other, and it stands in stark contrast to the way things once were.

An overview of the shift I’m trying to portray:

As we studied in class, the Counterculture movement in the 60s was largely fearful of computers and digital technologies, fearing specifically dehumanization. That would eventually change as a result of New Communalist efforts (namely efforts like Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog) to show a path forward in technology as a transcendent force that could bring people together and serve not to dehumanize so much as to liberate mankind under Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics. Indeed, the New Communalists, an ideologically liberal subset of individuals, were perpetuating a message of digital utopianism. As they grew older and began to inhabit the private sector, they would move to the right, under the theories of a “New Economy,” and standing behind organizations like the aforementioned Electronic Frontier Foundation in the 1990s. The “Magna Carta,”  which called for a free and open Internet that would act as a democratizing force and which represented the hopes of a laissez-faire digital economy, was in many respects the culmination of this shift, as it was endorsed by Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and became a major part of the GOP platform. The once-liberal counterculturists had become Republicans, taking their digital utopian ideas with them. The 21st century has brought with it immense change, however, as Democrats, too, are standing behind measures (like Net Neutrality) that are inherently cyber-libertarian and see an open Internet as a democratizing force, as President Obama insisted. The post-political aspect of all of this comes in when we consider the fact that for most conservatives to support Net Neutrality as well is to align themselves with people like Lawrence Lessig, who is most certainly not a proponent of laissez-faire economics. Though conservatives may not hew closely to his ideology on every last issue, Net Neutrality is only one of many issues on which it is clear that, digitally speaking, Republicans and Democrats share more in common than might normally be expected. In fact, on many of these issues, each party’s respective stance betrays a sort of contradiction with regards to the supposed core tenets of their ideologies.

Take the notion of cybersurveillance, for example. Conservative individuals on the right, like Ted Cruz, are fervently opposed to such measures. The government’s intrusion into users’ privacy is an interference in the free and open Internet that cyber-libertarian organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation seek to create. That is a cyberutopian ideal, in which a free Internet is looked to as a liberating force. But let’s consider the implications of an Internet which is not subjected to the surveillance of any force, and in which we see cases like that which is described in Amanda Hess’ “Why Women aren’t Welcome on the Internet.” Twitter is an entity that is firmly opposed to cybersurveillance and fights off government attempts to access its users’ information. As a result, law enforcement is crippled in its attempts to handle death threats, rape threats, and other misogynistic comments made towards women online. This stands in stark opposition to the “tough on crime” stance that Cruz and many other Republicans take (for example, note that he is on the record as wanting heightened monitoring of sexual predators… http://www.ontheissues.org/domestic/Ted_Cruz_Crime.htm … But can that be reconciled with his cyber-libertarian opposition to government surveillance?).

The lesson here, thus far, is that the issues we have discussed in class are markedly post-political. Does this argument make sense? And is cyberutopianism necessarily a core component of that argument? Sorry I wrote so much. “Excessively verbose” seems to be my default setting.


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