Information Consumerism : The Price of Hypocrisy

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All of this is to say that there are profound political and moral consequences to information consumerism– and they are comparable to energy consumerism in scope and importance. Making these consequences more pronounced and vivid is where intellectuals and political parties ought to focus their efforts. We should do our best to suspend the seeming economic normalcy of information sharing. An attitude of “just business!” will no longer suffice. Information sharing might have a vibrant market around it but it has no ethical framework to back it up. More than three decades ago, Michel Foucault was prescient to see that neoliberalism would turns us all into “entrepreneurs of the self” but let's not forget that entrepreneurship is not without its downsides: as most economic activities, it can generate negative externalities, from pollution to noise. Entrepreneurship focused on information sharing is no exception.

We need the mainstreaming of “digital” topics

European politicians can try imposing whatever laws they want but as long as the consumerist spirit runs supreme and people have no clear ethical explanation as to why they shouldn’t benefit from trading off their data, the problem would persist. NSA surveillance, Big Brother, Prism: all of this is important stuff. But it’s as important to focus on the bigger picture -- and in that bigger picture, what must be subjected to scrutiny is information consumerism itself – and not just the parts of the military-industrial complex responsible for surveillance. As long as we have no good explanation as to why a piece of data shouldn’t be on the market, we should forget about protecting it from the NSA, for, even with tighter regulation, intelligence agencies would simply buy – on the open market – what today they secretly get from programs like Prism.

Some might say: If only we could have a digital party modeled on the Green Party but for all things digital. A greater mistake is harder to come by. It’s wrong to think that all this digital stuff can just be pigeonholed and delegated to the bright young people who know how to code. This “digital stuff” is of fundamental importance for the future of privacy, autonomy, freedom, and democracy itself: these are matters that should be of importance to every political party. For a mainstream political party today to abandon responsibility over the “digital” is tantamount to abandoning responsibility over the future of democracy itself.

What we need is the mainstreaming of “digital” topics – not their ghettoization in the hands and agendas of the Pirate Parties or whoever will come to succeed them. We can no longer treat the “Internet” as just another domain – like, say, “the economy” or the “environment” – and hope that we can develop a set of competencies around it. Rather, we need more topical domains - “privacy” or “subjectivity” to overtake the domain of the network. Forget an ambiguous goal like “Internet freedom” – it’s an illusion and it’s not worth pursuing. What we must focus on is creating environments where actual freedom can still be nurtured and preserved.

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