Net neutrality and the extinction of journalism

Daily Kos is currently pushing a petition warning of the imminent demise of "net neutrality." It reads: "FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed a new set of rules that will allow Internet service providers to charge web publishers extra for preferential treatment. Large websites like Fox News could pay for priority service to ride in the fast lane and reach more people online—while independent blogs like Daily Kos, nonprofits, small businesses and any website that can’t afford it will be left out in the cold. The FCC will consider this 'pay-to-play' rule on May 15th, so let's nip it in the bud now." OK, we encourage readers to sign the petition, by all means. But we have little faith that online petitions really make much difference, or that this eventuality (inevitability?) can be nipped in the bud...

Speaking for myself as a journalist and blogger (dropping the editorial "we"), I'm rather fatalistic about this, I have say... We don't own the Internet. "They" do... It's enclosure strikes me as a matter of time. The anarchistic atmosphere of the past 20 years was just a bait-and-switch to lure us all in... And it sure worked, didn't it? Now that print journalism is practically dead, online journalism is about to follow it to the grave. There may initially be an exception for the officially approved big-money variety of the industry majors that can afford to pay for the "fast lane." But then we'll just be back to the status quo ante of hegemony by the giants of "legacy media"—only now dominated by far fewer players, after the digitally-driven downsizing, and available only to the jacked. As I warned several years ago: 

I am still waiting for the big "enclosure" of the Internet. It has been a free-for-all for a decade and counting now, and I have a hard time believing the party will last forever. Meanwhile, the Net's hypertrophy has succeeded in nearly destroying print journalism. The initially democratizing instinct that "information wants to be free" and "everybody can be a journalist" could be (is being?) perverted into its opposite: the death knell of information freedom and real journalism. And even as we wait for the corporate/government clampdown, the sheer abundance of electronic media has a marginalizing effect. So I think the techno-utopianism of the past several years could end up being a grand illusion.

And there are other, more insidious threats than the end of net neutrality. As I have kvetched:

Another—and much less appreciated—danger of the current digital hypertrophy and colonization of reality is the ever-changing nature of the technology, which is really a planned obsolescence scam to make money for the cyber-overlords and waste precious resources like coltan. This scam keeps us constantly learning and relearning, buying new gadgets and programs, reformatting and reprocessing, like gerbils on an exercise wheel, instead of actually writing, thinking and organizing.

And, finally, I can't help viewing the inevitability of net neutrality's demise in the same light as the inevitability of NSA surveillance of all our online activities (which today basicaly means all our activities, period). Once again:

Frankly, last year's revelations of the NSA collecting phone call data on millions of US citizens came as no great surprise. Why else would the NSA be building a vast underground city filled with super-computers in the Utah desert?

File under "duh."

The outrage over the Snowden revelations actually displays a wide-eyed niavete about government intentions. As long as digital colonization of all spheres of human activity continues to advance, of course the government (and not just the US government, which merely has greatest abilities, but all governments) will attempt to record and monitor our every thought and action. To think online petitions or lobbying can keep these abuses at bay indefinitely is sheer denial. The real challenge is to resist digital colonization and restore and expand the sphere of the meat world, and the print world. But nobody is talking about that. It is totally verboten. Even to broach the notion gets you labelled a Luddite, reactionary, romantic, primitivist, crank, etc.

And please spare me the tedium of pointing out the irony that I am making this critque on a website. We have already noted it, thank you. I didn't make this world this way, I was forced to adapt to it, by market and technological forces beyond my control. I am a "lumpen" journalist—in the strict Marxist sense: a worker who has been disenfranchised of his economic niche. Reduced to squeezing a dime off the Internet, like every other downsized writer in the wake of the big media contraction. The decline of real reportage, in which writers got paid for their work, has been concomitant with the hypertrophy of semi-literate blogs that offer "spin" instead of facts, and with everyone expected to work for free.

What's really, really depressing about blogging about this is... when I am depressed by the latest apocalyptic news item, my reaction is to blog about it, which gives me the illusion of having made a difference and provides temporary relief. Now I am blogging about the fact that even that illusory relief is about to be denied me...

Obama urges FCC to adopt net neutrality rules

To requisite howls of protest from the industry, Obama now says he backs net neutrality, and is urging the FCC to adopt rules protecting it. (Jurist, Nov. 11) Just to give credit where it is due, even if he is belatedly pandering to his base after an electoral humiliation...