Web surveillance ties in with any number of media examples from class. The easiest to highlight is the curtailing of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre’s FloodNet, where the government can lean on ISPs to limit the number of downloads from or accesses to host servers. This direct, overt action is not necessarily in the scope of technology impositions that I’m exploring, however. Paper Tiger TV perhaps more accurately sums up this problem in modern society – while referring explicitly to television in their manifesto, it proves relevant to internet culture as well. According to PTTV, “the power of mass culture rests on the trust of the public.” Tweaked slightly, this paper-tiger legitimacy is characteristic of the business model many online businesses thrive around; Facebook would not be popular if few used it (no incentive to join, few friends in the network), Yelp would not be successful without traction among reviewers. Participation in social technologies is central to their success, but they’re not trying to sell you anything – they’re just selling you.
At its conception, the internet was built around content, around anonymous forums and communication dedicated to intellectual discussion and information sharing. As usage has increased, and businesses realize that they can commodify experiences online, we are increasingly boxed into having a “profile,” identifying who we are to the world on any number of platforms. Interaction on the web has moved away from the cerebral and into the inane. Now, internet culture consists primarily of participation in a set of content providers that encourage simple consumption and a separation from reality into mediated life, where getting content onto the web is more important than actually living that moment. If you don’t take a picture and share it, did it actually happen? This space is seemingly dictated by the content generated by its users, but in reality there are far more complex forces at work collecting as much as they can about you through your presence online. As McLuhan says, there are no neutral spaces.