The old net delusion was naïve but internally consistent. The new net delusion is fragmented and self-contradictory. It vacillates between radical pessimism about the effects of digital platforms and boosterism when new online happenings seem to revive the old cyber-utopian dreams.
One day, democracy is irreversibly poisoned by social media, which empowers the radical right, authoritarians, and racist, misogynist trolls. The next day, the very same platforms are giving rise to a thrilling resurgence of grassroots activism. The new net delusion more closely resembles a psychotic delusion in the clinical meaning of the word, in which the sufferer often swings between megalomaniacal fantasies of control and panicked sensations of loss of control.
The shift toward a subtle endorsement of manipulation and propaganda — itself an expression of a desire for control — is a result of the fracture of our information ecosystem. The earlier cyber-utopian consensus overrated the value of information in itself and underrated the importance of narratives that bestow meaning on information. The openness of the media system to an endless stream of new users, channels, and data has overwhelmed shared stable narratives, bringing about what L. M. Sacasas calls “narrative collapse.”
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor