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The Great Slime-wall

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It took at least a decade for humanity to figure out that the Internet was not going to provide universal free access to all knowledge, unless there was a radical change in the global economic paradigm. Had it sprung full-blown into today's interactive real-time bandwidth, that might have happened. But it was barely more than speeded-up paper letters at the time. You couldn't hear, much less sense a reaction, while speaking. The audience had widely varying reading and writing skills. This improved communication. Not! TV was all one-way. Generations were conditioned to "viewing" instead of participating.

The invention of web-browsers and search-engines provided a more obviously profitable opportunity. With the infrastructure absorbed into the technological platform, publishing gained infinite circulation at almost zero cost. But the newspaper model of ad-supported distribution just didn't cut the mustard. The major platforms, eagerly swallowing their competitors, nearly went under before they had finished chewing. Information markets glutted and tanked.

The eventual solution to this was to turn public attention into a commodity, and the Internet into a rolling toll booth on the Information Superhighway. Imagine driving a car through beautiful scenery you can't quite see because the economy model has ads stuck all over the windows. They move around, constantly replaced by more of the ones you happen to glance at twice. You have to upgrade to get windows you can see through.

Now you need a subscription. Art and literature people want to enjoy is displayed to non-subscribers heavily interlarded with ads, many of which are frankly disgusting. These attention-parasites are annoying and distracting, and that is their sole purpose. Nice article. Shame if it got buried in ads that make people think of erectile dysfunction. The old name for this form of business is "protection racket." Like any other racket, it also covers the real money-maker. What has a front, has a back. But there's a new twist to this con.

The money is in what people will pay to avoid this nuisance. Not just in cash and attention, but in the surrender of personal boundaries, and those of all our family and friends. In essence we agree to join the Hunger Games as pre-screened surveillance-capital prey. We step into an attentional Amazon infested with leeches, schools of piranha, and giant snakes.


"Targeted" marketing has been revealed (by the likes of PriceWaterhouseCooper, thank you) as a complex maze of hoaxes sucking 30 billion a year out of the industry. But this symbiotic relationship defines the market that sustains it, by dumping a load of slime over anything of substance, only to be hosed down and disinfected when subscribers attach their personal credit account to the feed. But that's just the beginning. We pay for unhindered access, and then we pay, as Professor Zuboff shows in "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism," with our "behavioral surplus," our every action captured and rendered and used against our best interests, leading to the ultimate loss of personal autonomy.

For anyone attempting to publicize anything on the Internet, effectiveness will go down to the lowest possible level, exactly the way wages do when production efficiency has been maximized and prices elevated to market-unbearable. Everything to sustain profits. A race to the bottom. Writers and artists saddled and ridden by slimy leeches, and contaminating their viewers and readers. It's a filthy, smelly, repellant venue any way you slice it. But it's all the tech companies will deign to leave us.

The Internet, created by teenage nerds, developed by the Pentagon, and taken over by a dwindling number of obscenely powerful oligarchs, was never the common public utility we all pretend it is. Censorship of the president's twitter account a free speech issue? Nonsense: online, "free" means "worthless." The government is the only entity constrained from limiting speech, and that really only applies to profits, now defined by the Supreme Court as constitutionally protected speech. You can say what you like, as long as it doesn't affect somebody's bottom line. The president made that mistake, and the tech companies slapped him aside like a mosquito.

We don't pay subscription fees for the value of information or entertainment: we pay for virtual PPE (VPPE), to avoid the stench. We pay for the privilege of leaving our homes open to passing vandals, thieves, and child-molesters. It is the price of wiper-fluid as we drive through this howling artificial shitstorm, the surveillance-capitalist attention-mining operation, the machine that paints our separate realities on the inside of our skulls. The individually shrink-wrapped worldview is your oyster. Your perceptions shape your actions. Don't forget to vote on Election Day.

The allure of the search engines and "social" media is a tinsel sham. They select for the most gullible, reactionary, or sensation-addicted audiences. They bundle and sell these groups, no member of which is aware of the others, for predictive and even directive systems, herding people into interest-groups and consumer-markets and political ideologies and yes, really dumb conspiracy-theories. If you know what people will stand in line for, you can lead them anywhere. Now, you can just buy them, pre-heated, every minute. Business is booming.

After a decide or so living inside of this runaway machinery, is it any wonder the country is so fragmented and belligerent?


This is another feature of what Howard Richards calls our Basic Cultural Structure, the Prime Directive of which is that we only get to eat if the investors have enough confidence in turning ever greater profits, aka "growth." Since the Internet, and everything that it runs on, or that runs on it, is Business, it must please the investors, or we die twitching like the addicts we have become.

For artists and writers, not to mention cat-video filmers and the tinfoil-hat crowd, the surveillance-capital economy requires parasitic "behavioral surplus" mining, just to get a place in the room, never mind a seat at the table. Surveillance capital owns the table, the room, the building, and all the rest of the real estate.

If you don't like it, you can always return to the old days of hanging out a shingle and hiring a brass band. But not the old world: that was laid waste decades ago, when the Internet opened these new territories for conquest. It was done with our money. We're sitting in the wake of that gold-rush, picking through popcorn sacks in the wagon-tracks. Hanging out a shingle on Main Street in Disney World.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay (more...)

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