My requisite "theory" post of the month. Deleuze and Guattari of Anti-Oedipus fame would no doubt be impressed by how the internet has aggravated, not mitigated, the things that they saw in consumerism as contributing to a schizophrenic outlook on life. The central thesis of their argument is that consumer capitalism wants to take over and colonize every aspect of life, does this through advertising and marketing, is aided by the State in this, and that all of it contributes to a kind of disempowering schizophrenic like state on the part of regular consumers. We have ultra-consumerism, interacting with us on every level, on the one hand, but correspondingly dull and disappointing lives outside of our identities as consumers, namely with our lives as producers. The similarity between that state of being and schizophrenia is that schizophrenics also have delusions that are often extraordinarily detailed and in depth, not just general conspiracy theories but a sort of word salad almost of stimuli perceived by their subconscious mind being vomited back up in a world of almost total fantasy. Almost total, because it's all based on something real out there, even though what's real may have become totally and completely garbled and mixed up. Buy buy buy, you have to have this, have to have that, watch the newest show, look at our flashy quick editing on our ad, faster, faster, do it some more, that's the style of this sort of consumptive capitalism, with the State being the handmaiden and servant of it all. The internet...well...the internet has turned out to be less a positive replacement for TV and possibly more of a continuation of it.
True, no one owns the internet, not in the sense that TV channels, on cable or otherwise, are owned, but the ultra-consumption has picked up and now invades sections of our lives, sections of our minds, that didn't use to be easy to get to. Our writing, our personal thoughts and interactions with others, our specific tastes, our intellectual interests if any, are now up for grabs, and are all being marketed to now, most especially through social networking websites.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, and the internet in general, are great correctives to the social anomie and alienation that people face in contemporary America, that has in fact been produced by capitalism and television. But the machine, the beast, has found out about this strategy against dead architecture, so to speak, and has counterattacked by deciding to co-opt the whole thing. The marginal spaces that once opened up on the edges that proved to be exploitable as centers for resistance have now themselves come under the scrutiny of the all seeing eye. And not only in getting a leg in for advertisers, but also advancing the model of capitalism further against these very tendencies that once threatened to undermine some of it. And then internet is the ideal schizophrenic hideaway.
Unlike the old media, the interactivity of the new media, combined with the extent of information available, means that it just takes some Google searching to come up with an information overload, which, I would argue, feeds tendencies that feed the capitalist process, through the easy accessibility of basically any good, that you can buy with a click of the button. Just like you can search for any info with a click of the button. And your interaction is no longer with a store or with real people, but with a little screen filled with graphics, and possibly with the mailman or UPS guy/gal who delivers the packages. With the exception of work, which tends to have to be done in the real world although there are of course some options for doing things online, an entire social existence can be lived online. That it's acknowledged that such a thing isn't really desirable is of no account. Everyone said and knows that spending hour after hour parked in front of the television set wasn't good either, but that didn't prevent lots of people from doing it, and still doing it.
The State, taken as a big 'S' and standing for the social status quo, is lurking in the background seeking to reestablish control over this unruly part of society by having capitalism do the work for it. There still is a wild west on the internet, but if mainstream media and advertisers get more control through their web presence then the values, like obedience and some conformity, will be replicated de facto, albeit modified. Television proved a challenge to structure of power at first, and still does to a low extent, as events like the mass hysteria regarding Janet Jackson's nipple prove. But, at first, news gathering, for instance, proved to be a potentially radical activity through coverage of the Vietnam war, for example. Standards were modified because of new openness, but later control was reasserted, first through its aiding of the Reagan reaction, and then culminating in the stage managed Gulf War coverage, prompting Baudrillard to sarcastically ask if it really happened at all.
Something like that could happen to the internet, making it a mass force for conformity like nothing ever seen on the one hand, while preserving sectors of extreme freedom on the other.
Turn on, tune in, sign on, buy. Or drop out.
*on edit: I don't think that the State is just a handmaiden to capitalism. I think that the State is semi-autonomous, autonomous enough to have its own agenda, which varies depending on what party or tendency is formally in power. Both liberal and conservative serve capitalism with different levels of enthusiasm, and both have their own desires regarding what's appropriate behavior and appropriate ideas. The difference is that the conservatives are usually out there with what they think while the liberals often pose as something akin to Anarchists, even though they really aren't that far to the left. With the social democratic parties the situation is more complex, because anti-capitalism is written into the constitution of the parties themselves. Just as liberalism is a step forward from conservatism, which I suppose in turn is a step beyond authoritarian royalism, socialism is a step forward from liberalism, even though all States tend to have or to form their own agendas.
It's interesting, though, that in some social democratic countries socialism is paired with a kind of watered down corporatism, which is usually associated with the far right. Unions are given power as collective agents, then businesses cartelize themselves into corporate groups who deal with them, and the State stands in the middle, pushing its particular program and sometimes acting as a referee. It's strange to think of this as happening.
No matter what personal agenda the people who control the State have, the State always seems to be okay with serving power.