Thursday, 2 August 2018

Paul Mason's Postcapitalism - A Detailed Critique - Chapter 5(5)

A New Ruling Elite?

Paul describes the groups of people on the tube he takes, each day, dividing them into the 21st century networked individuals and the rest, who fit some variety of 20th century group. In some cities, the former group are already in the majority, he concludes, and now with information essentially limitless, and free, thanks to Wikipedia, social media etc., anyone with a basic education, and a smartphone can join it. 

But, of course, the ability to access all of this information does not make you a part of some new technocratic elite. The idea that it does is what feeds the reactionary concepts about the existence of metropolitan elites. In the last couple of years, we have seen the evidence of that. We had Brexit, fed by a sustained campaign of lies and fake news, that we now know was specifically targeted using the big data harvested by Facebook, and utilised by Cambridge Analytica. It was followed by the election of Trump, on a similar basis, and with the assistance of Russian bots to spread the fake news across all of that free information network, directly on to people's smartphones, and those behind that strategy have used it across the globe from Europe to Africa. But, the ideas they are promoting, by these means, are the antithesis of those that Drucker's new elite would be expected to pursue. 

And, of course, if we examine much of the traffic on this network, not only is it comprised of unfiltered fake news, sitting side by side with genuine information, not only is it recreating new bunkers and silos, in the name of safe spaces, at the same time, as provoking useless flame wars based upon badly understood ideas, which, in turn, has created its own social product, the internet troll, who has no commitment to any set of ideas, and for whom intolerant discourse is itself simply free entertainment, but 90% of it is junk. It comprises billions of tweets of people telling us every time they need to go for a shit, or Instagram pictures of what they are about to eat for their dinner. That is largely what all these people are flicking through, on their phones, along with the porn, and the dating apps. This is not the stuff of a new elite ruling class, or social revolution. Rather it is the stuff of bread and circuses pumped out to distract the public. 

Fifty or sixty years ago, you would see people walk along the road pushing the pram or pushchair, containing their infant, which was the centre of their attention, and focus of attention in any conversation they encountered. But, about twenty years ago, I formulated Bough's Law that whenever you see s young woman pushing a pushchair, they are are always deeply engrossed on their mobile phone. Today, it is the mobile or smartphone that is the main focus of their attention not any human interaction, including the human interaction with their child. It's no wonder we have so many kinds being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Just as once machines were means of production, whose purpose was to facilitate labour, but, as capital, became means of subordinating labour, so too consumer electronics were once a means of facilitating domestic labour, so as to release time for other activities, but now have become means of consuming free time, and reducing real human interaction. 

Whenever I am sitting in the doctor's waiting room, or at the hospital, both of which continue, it seems pointlessly, to display signs forbidding the use of mobile phones, or in the supermarket, where people are again engrossed on their smartphones, I usually make a point of looking at what they are reading. Never yet have I seen anyone reading anything that could be said to positively add to the sum of human knowledge. It seems to me that all that has happened is that a lot of the content of The Sun, The Daily Sport, and so on including the personal ads, has simply entered the digital age, in a multitude of forms. The main beneficiaries are big technology companies that get us to provide free content, whilst they suck in large amounts of advertising revenue. 

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