On-line, on-message, out of touch.

The Creator was re-alphabetising the CD collection which the Creator and partner have assembled down the years. (Yes, the Creator is obsessive-compulsive. “You de-alphabetised my CD collection? I’m afraid this relationship is over!”) It then occurred to the Creator that this collection is . . . pretty old. Rather retro. Not an awful lot of recent stuff. The Creator is out of touch.

If the Creator mingled more with the minds of contemporary humans there would be more of an opportunity to discover whether there are CDs out there which the Creator would like to listen to. Therefore the problem is surely isolation. Lack of contact. Such problems can best be solved in our modern world through the breathtaking technologies made possible by applied quantum physics. Communication is at the heart of becoming a whole human being (and, from becoming fully human, it is a short step to improving one’s CD collection).

The Internet. Once upon a time the Creator knew a man who owned a computer sales and repair establishment. This man was in many ways impressive, intelligent, attractive and wise. This man was affluent, at least as far as his own personal needs went — and also an extremely handy person, so that he was gradually able to turn the breeze-block hovel in which he was living into an opulent and beautiful residence, convenient for every occasion and astonishingly beautiful. The man had taste. He had respect. He had a wondrous lover. He was politically wise (an anarchist, to be precise, which sat a little better with his corporate identity than Marxian socialism would have done).

And, he once told the Creator that the Internet was the greatest human invention since fire.

This admirable man made a few mistakes (he invested largely in the stock market, against his principles, focusing on Mzi Khumalo’s pyramid-scheme which collapsed in the 1997 crash so that this admirable man lost a bundle). Having compromised his principles, however, he could hardly stop; he began giving away his glorious library of left-wing literature. Eventually, he and the gorgeous lover emigrated to more sympathetic shores. No doubt he still believed in the Internet, but he was not exactly a walking advertisement for it.

To what extent is the Internet really a solution for meeting human beings?

Perhaps the best way of responding to that, or at least one sensible way, is to ask what the political impact of the Internet is. Consider, particularly, the Internet as a political tool. It’s possible to get information out very easily via the Internet. You can put a document on it, together with substantiating evidence, photographs, film, animated diagrams, everything, and people can read it from anywhere in the country or even the world. Hence getting important information out, vital for developing or explaining policy, is perfectly easy. Much easier than it was twenty years ago.

There are two problems, however.

One is that the reader does not know that the information is true. To find out, the reader often has to go back to the source of the information. Sometimes that source is not provided in the original and it is necessary to search. Sometimes that source is not even on the Net. But this seems like a lot of work, and on the Net one is accustomed to instant information. Usually there is a simple summary; usually, in practice, one comes across the information in potted, pulped form on a partisan website, embedded in someone else’s thought-structure which coincides with one’s own. (We do not go on the Web to be challenged; who wants to have the foundations of one’s being under attack from one’s own desk?)

So it is tempting to just believe, and once you start believing, go on, and if a pyramid of argument is built atop that bit of data as a foundation, to accept every part of that argument up to the very pinnacle.

Often, of course, the person in charge of the website does not know that the information is true either. Most politically-minded people sort information according to whether it supports their world-view or not, defining what supports them as good, and what opposes them as bad. Hence if information is convenient it gets promoted. If it is false, who cares, so long as it endorses the larger truth which the website was set up for?

As a result, the Internet is a magnificent device for disseminating misinformation and disinformation. It is disseminated passionately and with verve, often with great talent. It is also disseminated without the disseminator realising that it is misinformation or disinformation. It goes out across the globe, link upon link, and sometimes the misinformation may pop up on politically opposed websites where the misinformation happens to correspond with a tiny section of the operator’s wishes. If somebody misquotes a prominent leftist, that will pop up on a lot of right-wing sites, but also on some left-wing sites where the site operator dislikes that leftist because s/he is too leftie, or not leftie enough, or not the right kind of leftie, or indecently popular.

(Does all this mean that you should not trust the Creator’s word? No, for the Creator is an immortal Deity whose every gnomic utterance must be treasured. However, were the Creator a mere human being, that would be an entirely different case and you should not have too much Faith. Incidentally, if that sad fraud Jehovah really existed, He would probably have a rather dull CD collection, too.)

The other problem is much simpler. Who’s got Internet-connected computers and the energy to use them? The answer is the middle class, and especially the upper middle class. Working-class people do not have desks or offices or cubicles from which they can access the Net so long as they don’t download anything naughty, or at least large (in megabit terms) and naughty. Hence working-class people don’t have as much experience of fooling around with computers as middle-class people do. When they go home, they are tired and want to go to bed. They don’t have energy to fool around on the Net. Besides, most of them are spending their money on other things than computers and broadband connections.

In South Africa, the problem is even clearer. A huge number of people do not have access to electricity. Those who do are often limited and rationed. A huge number of people are paid so little that access to a computer is absolutely inconceivable. These are people who don’t have fridges; they aren’t going to get computers. They haven’t seen a computer up close in their lives. All these factors suggest that although South Africa is one of the most net-connected countries in Africa, this is a little like being the happiest Jew in Auschwitz.

But there are a lot of Internet connections, and they are mostly middle-class people. With middle-class attitudes, and most of those attitudes are those of the white South African community who even today make up the bulk of the middle class and have established the middle-class structures for other race groups to fit into. Therefore anyone making a political statement on the South African Internet is making it to middle-class people, who are mostly fairly conservative folk and who are — surprise, surprise! — mostly out of touch with working-class attitudes, except where those attitudes happen to coincide with their own middle-class interests.

So getting in touch on the Internet means getting in touch with people who are out of touch? Apparently so. What also seems true is that, albeit to a less extreme extent, this is also the case in other more affluent countries. Internet debates often seem clogged with either conservatism, or at least with a narrow and not always brilliantly-informed outlook. This is a product of a debate happening in a fairly narrow class constituency. It’s pretty apparent, when checking out comments on various sites, such as the Guardian’s commentisfree or on Lenin’s Tomb, that the participants are not people who repair cars, mine for minerals or clean offices. They’re the people who drive the cars, use up the minerals and sit in the offices. The fact that some of them hold opinions which challenge their own class positions may be praiseworthy, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that they are often sadly out of touch (directly) with the objective reality lived by most of their fellow-citizens, and also that they don’t know it.

This raises a problem about the “netroots” phenomenon. American political parties raise a lot of their funding via the Internet. Who are they appealing to? Presumably, a comparatively elitist crowd of people, many of them not tremendously well-informed about what’s going on, but extremely well-informed about what their parties want them to believe. There is a vast number of websites devoted to promoting the positions of those parties and inviting people to cough up over the Internet with their credit-cards. In effect, though, this is ensuring that the parties are more concerned with the opinions of middle-class techno-literate people than with the opinions of the majority.

Maybe this is an exaggeration. Maybe illegal Mexican workers stagger home from the car-wash or the fast-food kitchen and get straight on the Net on their computers to give money to Barack Obama. It would be nice to think so. But most probably, it is not so. Most probably the focus on the Net simply encourages the controllers of the sites to forget all about those workers who once formed the backbone of both parties. Instead of acting as a countervailing force to the money-power of corporations, the netroots seem, to the Creator at least, to be a way of obtaining money from the same kind of people through different channels, and to be a way of pretending that you have a mass mandate from the People when in fact you only have the endorsement of a chunk of an affluent class.

So there are objective reasons for doubting that the Internet is in any real way an alternative to pavement-pounding popular politics.

In fact the Internet may be a distraction from this. A website is a nice safe place. There it is on the screen, a nice safe thing in your cubicle or office or study or whatever. It is the mirror reflecting what you wish to believe, much more so than a political party which may contain people who disagree with you or attitudes which you would like to see changed. As such, statements on the Web assume tremendous importance because they get bound up with the psychological health of the person looking at the screen.

So it becomes tremendously important to challenge anything perceptibly wrong on the Web. Post a comment which the operator of the website doesn’t like and run into trouble. On the other hand, some people post comments specifically to cause trouble — to “derail a thread” and thus ensure that a discussion which the person doesn’t like, gets distracted into something more appealing, or stops altogether. People get paranoid about such commentators. People get heated and start swearing and accusing people of being Nazis or Communists or whatever. (There’s a theory that the longer a thread lasts, the more likely it is that someone will get compared with Hitler.) All this shows that people are investing their energy on a screen excited by projected electrons, and this takes their energy away from the real business of changing reality, instead of changing the image in front of you. Mark Slouka’s War of the Worlds talks quite extensively about the problem of confusing reality and virtual reality and ending up incapable in both.

Which has been a long way of saying that maybe the Creator shouldn’t feel too bad about not updating this website as often as possible.

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