As I was working on the wording of last Sunday’s sermon the other day, I stumbled over some wording that stirred up my thinking about one of the complexities of this moment.
As I was writing, I tossed out the comment “in public on the internet.”
I left the phrase in my sermon because it fit in contrast to “in public in person” for conveying the intent of a relatively minor point.
Yet I knew even then that it was problematic.
Because there is no public space on the internet.
Every online space is also a product, a personally or organizationally branded and controlled transactional, manipulated invention.
There are people and organizations that offer opn spaces, but ultimately such a space still belongs to the entity that curates or moderates it, that constructs it or pays for its domain name and server space.
As with all things, there are trade offs.
Online spaces are more accessible than physical ones for a range of folks and a range of reasons.
That is good.
At the same time, they are less accessible to others.
That is not good.
And beyond the question of accessibility, they are still privately controlled. They produce and are a product of the ongoing erosion of public space, the wholesale dominance of an enacted ideology of privatization.
Some of us are deeply disturbed by hardened postmodern neoliberal capitalism’s commodification of all things, its reduction of all matters of life to economic transactionalism.
A shift of activity from physical spaces to online ones inescapably intensifies the process of privatization.
I don’t see how it cannot, at least not under contemporary paradigms of privatized internet space.
And of course I’m participating in one right here.
Before all this started, I had begun studying Shosana Zuboff’s work on surveillance capitalism – and also begun trying, if not to extricate myself and the church from it – because I’m not sure that’s even possible – at least to develop alternative ways of communication and representation as well.
But in the urgency of this moment, I’ve had to set that aside and lean fully into efficient, broad-reaching, monetized privately controlled internet spaces – like this one and like Google’s suite of products – for the purposes of conversation, substantive work, and meaningful connection beyond the walls of my household.
I simply don’t have the resources of time, energy, money, and knowledge to do otherwise and still get all the necessary (or at least a significant portion of the necessary) things done.
Even beyond those exigencies, I’m increasingly aware of how our cultural worldview and expectations – perhaps even our ways of understanding knowledge-making and being – are being shaped by our reliance on and seduction by such pervasive privatized methods and mediums/media.
It can be democratic in certain ways, but in all things it is entirely reliant on the money and control mechanisms of the private market.
I am SURE there are folks working in this field, likely even in analyzing and theorizing cultural production in the COVID era – and it may be that Zuboff has more to say about this in particular and I just haven’t gotten there.
So this is still an evolving thought on my part – and I need to do more lit search to properly situate it.
But I want to go ahead and set it out there because it’s important as a touchstone of understanding about how we are forming and being formed by powerful forces motivated by particular agendas (some of which are good in my opinion and some not – but it’s critical to recognize them as private agendas operating in privatized spaces no matter what).
I welcome thoughts and feedback, as well as references to work by others in this area.