The Internet - Capturing the Ideas of Superstudio and Utopia

By definition utopia is an ideal place or state; any visionary system of political or social perfection.

Well over twenty-five years ago the Florentine architects, Superstudio, conceptualized a utopian society where physical and social barriers were dissolved and replaced by a worldwide grid blanketing the landscape. Individuals and nomadic groups roamed the world freely, tapping into unlimited energy, global communication, and instant information everywhere. The Internet captures all of these elements; it brings together people from all over the globe into virtual communities. The Internet does dissolve barriers of all types, as there are no limitations, no preconceived notions of the person on the other computer. The Internet has created a new mix of a closed and open system, and melding of literate and oral societies. While we can still have the distance of a written based society, with online communities we can also have the shared and interactive experience commonly found in oral societies. With regards to the closed and open systems the internet allows the user to create boundaries as they are able to create personas and identities while at the same time the internet creates a dynamic and changeable environment. Without these notions it gives people the opportunity to be themselves without fear of recriminations or judgements. Physical attributes are not part of the first impressions. There are groups all over the World Wide Web for anyone and everyone. The Internet is also a massive pool of ideas and information. The creativity found is limitless, and with those ideas anyone can build and create new ideas. There is no need to wait for information, anything can be found at the click of a button. Yet, even with all the positive attributes of the Internet, it cannot be perceived as a utopia. The idea behind the Internet of bringing people together to create new ideas can be considered utopia, but the application behind it is not. With the melding of cultures via the Internet, there appears to be dominant cultures and ideas that threaten to overshadow the smaller, developing nations and cultures, privacy and diversity. Many dangers can be found on the Internet, parents and governments must be vigilant with how the Internet is used as it can be used to harm others.

The Internet does not have barriers it is able to cross borders and make the world smaller. Although there are still disparities amongst the worlds poorest and richest, and the ability for some to have the technology required to communicate on a global level. It is slowly becoming easier and easier for most to have the tools to be able to interact globally. Through the Internet people are able to create different personas and be whoever they want to be. Each person is able to interact with people of different social classes without fear of judgement. As stated by Howard Rheingold:
“I can attest that I and thousands of other cybernauts know that what we are looking for, and finding in some surprising ways, is not just information but instant access to ongoing relationships with a large number of other people.” (Rheingold 1993, 61)

The Internet can be completely anonymous and there are no limitations. Online a level playing field is created and interpersonal communication has taken on a whole new meaning. There is no need to meet and have physical interactions with people; everything can be done in a virtual world. In this world you can be anything you want to be. Mass media has become a very important part of the lives of many people, it is through the media that are able to connect with family and friends. Mass media helps to solidify the primary group ties. It aides in emotional stability because you can communicate with the people most important to you, no matter what the distance is. As Innis assumed, “the disenfranchised groups in society would lead the search for new forms of technology in seeking to compete for some form of social power.” (Carey 1968, 273)

With the freedom the World Wide Web allows everyone can find online communities to become a part of and feel that they are amongst others who understand. With this sense of community and belonging comes the empowerment of knowing that you are part of creating something new; that you are not alone in the world. The media is continuously with us, which in turn means that our family and friends are also with us. Through the media we are able to keep in contact with our families and friends without the messy family feuds, threats (and) recriminations, we are able to choose when and for how long we communicate with our loved ones. But this does keep the lines of communication open. The very reason that social networks and the media are so popular is because of the emotional stability that we gain from communicating with family and friends. Media is more of an aid to our ties to the outside world rather than the cause. It makes it easier as we are able to interact at the press of a button, we can log off when we want. In the past life would get in the way of this communication, as we either had to make a phone call, or write a letter, now with technology the way that it is, we are able to do this wherever and whenever. There are fewer constraints on time, but it still allows for closeness with those that are not within a close distance to us. With media, it is true as one is able to find others with the same interests and are able to interact and feel that they are a part of something. McLuhan was correct that the world has become a global village, it is a good thing and that it was inevitable. Like everything else, there is a cycle and what was old has become new again. Human beings are by nature very social and curious creatures. There is a need to have a sense of community and belonging and with the new technology and the decreasing size of the world people are able to find and create villages of their own. We are now able to reach outside of traditional borders and are able to connect on different levels with anyone and everyone across the globe. We can write emails, post video, have online chat and we can do this in real time. With each year technology is evolving to not only make life easier and faster, but also to connect people in a way that we never have before. With the world being a global village it is getting harder and harder to turn a blind eye to horrible events that happen all across the world. This will aid in stopping suffering and injustice in countries around the world, because now governments and people know that the world is watching. With the decreasing size of the world knowledge is being shared to help make the world a better place. With issues such as global warming, government dictatorships and illegal practices we are finding ways to have these issues decrease with the global openness and awareness that technology has created. It may not be a quick reform but it is making a difference. For instance, countries are trying to cut their individual emissions, the two journalists were freed from North Korea, child pornography, and these are now global issues and not just issues within individual countries.

The World Wide Web has created a voice for all. Information is not just controlled by a small group of people. Now anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection can be a writer, author, director and producer. The communities on the internet fit within Franklin’s idea of a holistic technology. They develop in an organic way, each one feeds into the creation of another, “humans simply assist in discovering the best conditions for growth and try to meet them.” (Franklin 1990, 27) is expansion of growth, information and knowledge each time we turn on our computers and interact with others we are living within all five of Franklin’s realities with each communication. Instead of information being filtered down and people being talked at, they can now respond with a voice of their own. Issues can now be debated by the many and faster than ever before. Now there are options to get information from first hand accounts (blogs, tweets, ireporting) and get different sides to every story. It is just as easy to go to the Internet, as it is to watch news on television; due to this the audience has more power. With this voice it is harder to ignore the public; this is why media outlets use ireporting. The public can be writers, journalists, reporters, anyone can create blogs, publish newspapers – can be heard. It is different because with the new technology you are not just limited to information in your own region; you are now able to branch out to different areas in the world. Now you can be your own gatekeeper and you can set your own agenda. Before the access to information was very limited, there were only a few places, and people that had ability to obtain and deliver news. Those that have been on the fringe of their respective societies can now find a community to which they belong. There are groups all over the internet about anything you can think of. Online communities open lines of communication that 10 years ago did not exist. In this new world information is instantaneous, there is no need to wait for anything, all you have to do is Google it. The internet has brought the world to the finger tips of anyone with a personal computer or access to one. There is more information available than people can asses, now time must be taken to shift through information instead of gathering information. Ideas and opinions can be shared and reinvented. The ability to communicate with people from around the world allows for information which can help with curing diseases, allow for equal treatment of citizens around the world. With this quick access to information it has created a smaller more intimate world. This has been helpful with global disasters and government injustices, now the world is watching. With the disaster in Haiti, the world was able to see the destruction and the need the Haitian people were in live. By seeing the disaster first hand it was difficult for the world to turn a blind eye and ignore. By shining a light on the need donations were made and aid was sent from all over the world. There are no more secrets, when Iran went through their latest election the world was watching, creating a more open democratic process. Citizens across the globe can upload and express to world their trials and tribulations. The internet has given rise to the businesses around the world. Industries are able to increase their margins through their ability to communicate on a global level. With the internet they are able to not only showcase their products but they are also able to have two-way conversations with their customers. Communication can also become interactive with their employees, with this ability they are able to create loyalty and to gain insight from those that are in the front lines. With these avenues of communication businesses have the knowledge base to improve not only customer relations but also employee opinions.

The internet itself is not utopia. The concept of the internet could be considered ideal, as it can cross borders and bring different people together, spread information to multiple people and share a multitude of ideas. But the actual application and usages of the internet has created many different issues; issues that governments are attempting to contain. Unfortunately, the technologies move faster than governments do. Legislation may be in place in one jurisdiction and not in another. With the global reach of the internet lines are blurred. Many concerns have arisen such as privacy, censorship, diversity and the sovereignty of nation states. Once something has been uploaded onto the internet it is there forever, you cannot take it back. There have been many instances where videos and pictures have been posted on the internet without the consent of all parties leading to embarrassing and damaging consequences. This has caused debate over the ability to maintain a private life in the face of technology that allows events to be posted in a matter of seconds and to go viral within a matter of hours. This brings about many questions, who owns the information? With websites like Facebook, My Space and Twitter lives are now a matter of public domain. It is not just the person in the picture that has control over who sees it; it can be uploaded, with everyone in the picture “tagged” making life one big looking glass. This looking glass has created an opening for people to become targets of crime. With the world able to look in and know your every move, burglaries have taken place when people have posted that they have been on vacation. The World Wide Web has also created an open forum for people to voice their opinions on any and every subject. The internet allows for anyone to post their thoughts and views and have them read globally. Although some good has come from this ability such as dictatorships cannot hide injustices, and people having forums to gain insights to any subject imagined; there is also the flip side where messages of hatred can be spread with the click of a button. For instance, with the bombing of the Twin Towers religious fervour was at an all time high. Extremists from all sides were able to get their opinions, views out to millions gaining followers from all corners of the globe. This did not help to create the bridge needed to keep the peace of the many when it was undone by only a few people. Adding fuel to the fire is that the internet has cemented McLuhan’s idea of the global village. The world is becoming smaller and smaller. Ideas flow from one end of the globe to another in seconds. As the internet was created in the United States making the primary language of the internet English, U.S. culture has dominated the internet. Cultural Imperialism has replaced the colonial imperialism of the past. The culture of the U.S. threatens to undermine the diversity of the world. Media practices in the northern hemisphere are extremely biased in how they report the news. It is much more about keeping themselves as the authority on how to do things better than anything else, especially in instances where they are reporting on events in the developing world. The images that are portrayed are of poverty and violence; it is very rare that positive news is reported with reference to poorer nations. Media in the north must have the ability to grab someone’s attention within a matter of seconds. So stories about crisis sell space, and get the attention of viewers, and it gets hits on the web page. You can see that trying to formulate the opinions and thoughts of the readers is what is important to the mass media in the north and economics is the driving force behind the stories that are told. Developing nations do use more traditional media and they are more interested in interpersonal information. Mass media is not used as much as traditional because of the economics of the region. Traditional media and interpersonal interaction are more about the story and less about the idea of just getting the snippets of information. It is a different pace from what the northern hemisphere demands. In the northern hemisphere we want information and data quickly, traditional media and interpersonal communication take time. Having the access to the mass media allows for information on the go. The art of traditional media is a dying art form. Given that there is little to no accountability, this allows for the media to broadcast what they want and filter it in any way that they want. They do not have to tell the entire story; they just need to give pieces of the information to maintain the idea that they are providing a balanced view of the facts. You can see this when watching the news on different channels; the same story is told from different angles. As the audience, we are dependent on what that particular station deems important. In order to get the entire story we would need to look at different sources. If there was to be research done on the topic, I think people would realize just how much distortion there is in the information that we receive. And realize just how much our reality is based on the opinion of what is important from the views of a limited few. As well, if there were research done on the diffusion of news it would make the process more limited in my opinion. Because, it would be impossible to please everyone watching with the pieces of information that were given, which would mean that more coverage would need to be given on any given news story which would in turn decrease the amount of stories that are told. And at the end of the day, most people are just looking for the snippets that are provided as that they are generally aware of what is happening. The diffusion of the news is pretty much the same in democratic countries around the world. Within countries where there are dictatorships or with communist countries, the distortion is greater. There is no option for the audience to look to other sources to gain further insight to the stories that they hear or see from news outlets. Their media resources are limited either with government restraints or by the filters that are placed on the Internet, news channels, etc. Also, economics plays a role as well. If live below the poverty line, you may not have access to different methods of media, so you are limited to what is easily available. And as De Fleur says, the most important news is delivered by another person, or opinion leader; in these cases you would be hearing only the most important news that may affect your particular area and not necessarily everyday news. An example of this would be in China, when the students protested in Tiananmen Square, people in the outlying areas were not aware of the massacre that had occurred and they were not told the complete story of why the students had held that protest. The news traveled from person to person, and as happens with word of mouth the message does tend to be distorted. Looking to politics this also gives another example of the muted group theory. In the north the media is a business, and the bottom line. It is about getting the most out of the least costly solution. More and more people are adapting, changing their lifestyles to fit with what they see on the internet. Countries are doing what they can to halt the flow of U.S. culture, by limiting the sites that are available to their citizens via the internet. Though this may slow the flow of information, it in no way stops it completely. With younger generations using the internet, and technology more and more as a means of communication they may start losing touch with those that are physically around them. With technology quickly becoming the primary means of communication it is easy for people to lose touch with those around them. New communities are developing in a virtual world, face to face contact is no longer the desired method of communication. Language is changing, with the internet creating speed to be an important factor, new phrases are being created, such as LOL, TTYL, the new communication tools have character limits so conversations are condensed a new vocabulary is required. Smaller countries are at risk of being enveloped by larger, richer and therefore more dominant ones. Based on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: “the language a speaker uses has a determining influence on the character of his thought.” (Carey 1968, 282)

Western culture and values threatens to overshadow all other cultures around the world. This is creating the perfect environment for confirming the theory of technological determinism. People are conforming and changing the way they live their lives based on the new technology. Not just in how they socialize but how they conduct business as well. In today’s market you are only as good as the technology that you use. Bigger corporations can use updated technology to market their products in multiple markets, at lightening speeds. Each website that is visited has some form of advertising, and they can track the sites that you visit to get the information that they need to market to each segment in a specific way. In turn, smaller businesses are being forced to try to keep up in their respective markets or be swallowed up and put out of business. It is creating a wider gap between big business and the local ‘mom and pop’ store. Big businesses can afford to not only market to their target audiences, they are able to set up online stores, and have the items shipped anywhere in the world. By giving the online option anything can be purchased by a keystroke without having to leave home, or interrupt the flow of their daily routine.

In conclusion, the internet does capture the ideas of Superstudio, yet I would not consider it to be utopia. It allows for freedom to live in a virtual reality, creating new personas and allows for people to connect on different levels with those from all across the world. Yet, the application of the internet is far from ideal. There are growing concerns with the amount of control that governments have over the information that is sent via the internet. Concerns around pornography, censorship and privacy vary from nation to nation, and once over the web who has the authority and jurisdiction? The World Wide Web has become an essential part of not only business and government but is now also an essential part to the average person’s everyday life. We can do our banking, shopping, daily interactions from wherever there is a personal computer and an internet connection. In this sense it has created an ideal, as it makes life simpler, and faster, but as individuals we must continue to be vigilant with the use of the internet as there are many dangers that come with it. The internet does remove the physical and social barriers and creates an opportunity for an open and honest dialogue. It gives people the freedom to not only communicate and interact with those in their immediate vicinity but to expand and create relationships in different countries with different cultures. Though at this point the legislature in countries have not caught up with the internet, in time countries will learn that they will be required to work together in order to decrease the issues of privacy and ownership.

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