Life goes on -- off and on-line
despite denials of service! Late breaking news!

A public interest announcement for a disinterested public

Every time a new technology is introduced, something about it must be tamed and made secure so that the consumers can adapt and develop their mass relationship with the new medium (television, telephone) or means of transportation (railroad, automobile). What is new about the Internet is not so new. It is difficult to remember what was promised by these new technologies, and what their long term effects and affects really became, once their potential for profit was realized. -- Reminders of the not-so-newness of new technology always sound "academic" -- precisely because the promise of newness itself, as a function of modernity, has been fully commodified.

Every space, on and off-line is more and more under threat of full saturation with advertising, and the profit margin is now at the center. Disinterestedness -- that is a disregard for profit making or commercialization has been increasingly suspect -- is a virtue of the past, a philosophical category handed down from times when time was still a plentiful resource and not a fissured, fractured trace element of commerce. To harbor such an old-fashioned interest in disinterestedness is to deny that financial gain is the only profit to be drawn, that capital accumulation is the only aggregate that matters in the complicated chemistry of the social. The university, once a bastion of supposedly disinterested pursuit of knowledge, has given up that ideal in favor of potential profits to be had in distance education. The distance many citizens have from educational issues expresses itself in another disinterestedness, which is the sheer pursuit of consumption. Linguists, please note: in this current paradigm shift, the meaning of the word "interest" will cease to denote qualities of involvement, observation or attention, and it will revert to mean nothing but capital gains. Interest, from now on, is a product of capital, and all competing interests will be rooted out.

The inherently political potential of a denial of pure consumerism is what really frightens those elements of society and the media who, when things fail to work, are quick to blame it on whom they love to call "hackers." Indeed the danger comes from everybody who would use the Internet for their own non-commercial ends of communication, not profit -- although the process of turning even the minds of so-called "hackers" in more commercially profitable directions is certainly picking up steam. As the computer technology magazine '2600' put it, the widespread misuse of the word "hacker" by the media to mean anyone who uses a computer to their own ends instead of those of e-commerce or consumerist service indicates a real paradigm shift: "With stories like this, it's now become apparent that the media is also misusing the word journalist."

Be on the watch for more spending on Internet security, and much rhetoric about maintaining consumer "confidence" (that mysterious quantity that must be continually massaged like the flabby organ of an aging venture capitalist) that might be caused by lack of FBI and security industry vigilance. Just as the world once had to be made safe for democracy, the Internet will have to be made safe for commerce -- guaranteeing its security is the prime occupation of both business and government, and it is no news to anyone that those agencies have every interest in limiting the range of "legitimate" activity on in cyberspace to shopping.

Whether or not the denial of service floods last week were a protest action aimed at the overwhelming e-commercialization of the Internet, the major press is trying to convince us that they were motivated by some extremely dangerous, destructive intent. Liberals and critics on the left will admonish that the lack of a clear political agenda makes it a politically immature gesture, while conspiracy theorists will see an attempt to precipitate a crisis situation on-line. And in a sense, those of us who bear witness to life online do not have to decide what the final origin of this denial of services might be -- its effects and ripples during the past week, especially around February 9-10, 2000 will lay the groundwork for imposing an international state of martial law in cyberspace: public opinion is being formed by the journalistic characterizations of this event as "terrorism."

Among OED definitions of terrorist, we find the following:

terrorist: 1b. person who uses and favors violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community 2. a person who tries to awaken or spread a feeling of fear or alarm; an alarmist, scaremonger.

The front lines of mass media journalism have been populated by scaremongers ever since the end of the last war -- alarmist attitudes have won the Cold War -- there is another psychological one being waged now -- and this one is assaulting our very capacities for processing information without the use of trademarked software programs. Note the sudden disappearance of the denial of services story - the complete failure of political analysis of this event indicates that it might have been nothing but a budget cover-up.

Hacktivism - a media farce?

PS: After months of 'investigation', no suspects have been brought in yet.

2000 © Catherine Liu and Peter Krapp

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