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The Digital Threat to Our Way of Life?

The cultural convergence session at WebSci '09 continues with a panel composed of Greek musicians, actors, and directors. Electronic musician Konstantinos Bita, who began his work on Ataris and Amigas, reflects on his introduction to digital technology, and the gradually growing importance of electronic networks - using modems at first, and then connecting more directly to the Internet. In the early days, access was often free, but then commercial interests began to build their walled gardens with the aim to enrich themselves; with Web 2.0, Konstantinos believes, a further change will occur which further isolates people and locks them into online pursuits without providing real sociality.

Web 2.0 systems, he says, weaken people's souls, and are ultimately driven by conservative multinational corporations - the same corporations which destroy society and destroy our planet. The Web is a revolution, yes, but through it we have lost contact with reality, with our souls. What could change this state of affairs? Konstantinos says that we're lost in a forest of information, we can no longer distinguish lies from truth, good from bad; we become repetitive accidents occurring over and over again. The impact of true art is diminished, and digital media players level all art to the mediocre - MP3's compression of sound is one example. What is still deeply artistic is seen as elitist, and everything else is commodified and added to a huge pile of content.

In some countries, political and financial interests control the Web through censorship; how can something substantial be created which moves people over and above the Internet itself? People learn to love whatever commodities there are; we love what facilitates our social status. This is a limited form of love that keeps us away from truth and is based on property, control, and power; it is based on human weaknesses. We are already close to living the life of the pampered characters in Wall-E, who no longer have any reason to look after themselves.

The Internet and the Web cannot change this world - what can change the world are only the ideas and actions of people. For such people, the Web may still be a powerful tool - but the forces of profit which control it now limit our ability to move in this direction, even though the technical capabilities of the medoum continue to evolve. The most successful sites on the Web have become major business entities in their own right, and promote only mediocre, popular culture, not the best that art has to offer. Society is being led in the wrong direction; instead, we must put love and spirit above material worth.

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