Prometheus Wired – Darin Barney

‘a meditation upon the economic, ontological,
and political conditions necessary for democratic self-government, the failure of the modern
technological world to meet those conditions, and the likelihood that networks, as a technology,
will perpetuate rather than alleviate that failure (268).’

Barney’s explicit goal is to debunk those who have been preaching about the innately prodemocratic, nonhierarchical, chaotic infrastructure of the Internet. He contends that the new computer networks are producing greater alienation among workers and greater mastery over citizens.

The result of this new information and communication technology has not been to free and  empower ordinary people but to tighten the screws and make their global economic and political rulers richer and less visible than ever before.

Insofar as they bolster the already formidable control of capital over the means of power, computer networks are an essentially conservative, not revolutionary, technology—conservative, that is, of the prevailing liberal and capitalist order (p. 188).

If citizens struggle to gain power in the capitalist or quasi-capitalist societies they are presently living in how are they likely to gain more with a network technology that further alienates and disaggregates them?

The control mechanism at the hear of network technology is for Barney anathema to democracy.

It’s a powerful treatise especially in its use of Heidegger and Marx to marshall arguments from other technological periods and political philosophy. The same holds true today according to Barney but simply to perfect capitalism in a friction-free way.

The question to be asked of his thesis though is whether, in the light of this perfection of capitalism, democracy can renew itself and propose new forms that can harness the potential for a more positive view of communication technologies to enhance democratic processes. Despite all the activism/hacktivism and online experimentation however, the jury is still out.