Karl Marx is famous for thinking up a system where everyone had a voice, where everyone was equal, and then went on to associate it with a political system. I suppose you can't blame old Karl for the way it all turned out - but who would have thought that, many years later, his ideas would be living on - in a web browser?
Lets face it, in its fundamental form
, Communism doesn't work for the majority of people, regardless of your political stance in the real world. What is more interesting is that when we establish some kind of pseudo-communism in some kind of digital pseudo-existence, it seems to work pretty well. Whilst humans are innately still the selfish, somewhat narcissistic
entities they have always and will always be, the recent trend of social networking is about more than just digging something or adding friends on MySpace - it's about contributing to communities and belonging to a movement greater than yourself. Pure Marxism?
Time magazine recently announced that every one of us is their person of the year for 2006, remarking that the internet wouldn't be what it is today without the free
contributions to its existence, and the liberal means in which anyone can add to it from any terminal across the world, in any language.
Wikipedia, for example, is massively reliant on user submissions to fill its database, as well as donations to keep it running. Donations! Arguably one of the least selfish things you can do, and a word one often hears in the context of politics and belief systems. You're donating to a community of people and writing about topics with people you've never met, all for the benefit of the community and those who read it. There are over 1.5 million articles in the English language version, alone. It's a massively democratic society where no one has the power.
‘nix! The ultimate communist software! Whilst everyone and anyone can add and develop to it, no one owns it and (almost) everyone has a say on how it should turn out. It's rare that you have to pay for it, usually it's to just buy a hardcopy. I feel it’s almost too obvious to point out the link to Red Hat
. Does it come with a hammer and sickle logo, Comrade?
Communities of people gather together in chat rooms and forums
to comment and help others with their expertise, with no financial gain to themselves. This is only just to pass the time or get their virtual avatar a greater recognition, by people all over the world they're never likely to meet.
People actually enjoy
giving to each other! This is because they can do it whenever they feel like it, as much or as little as they want, and can leave without a big hoo-ha or collapse of a society - contribution without obligation. Inevitably, someone else will take their place or a new group will form somewhere else, thus, the endless cycle begins again. The fansubbing scene
, for example, has hundreds, if not thousands of people around the world translating and subbing any number of languages from a variety of TV for free - and their products are often higher quality than DVDs you can buy from the people that made the show in the first place. They compete between themselves to produce the fastest products with the best effects and the most accurate translations whilst sometimes providing trivia in the show notes as well.
Today, we expect things on the internet to be had for free - anti-capitalism, another trait of communism. Whilst this can be a problem, where companies trying to make money out of the internet also come up against piracy, print publications now have to compete with free and more up to date online ones. Searches from the likes of Google are accurate, free and available to all (with, ironically, the Chinese caveat
), regardless of age, sex, ethnicity and intelligence: it's a Marxist's wet dream. It's been proven time and again that you can't stop the revolution, and there will always be a source, albeit in all levels of shadiness, of "free" stuff.
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Blogging is the ultimate power to the people, where everyone has a real voice that can potentially bring down a corporation or stick it to the man. It’s another self regulating entity: if something is crap, other people will post that it is crap. Fanboyism gets shot down, and lies get exposed because it's far more sensational when someone posts something new exposing others. We love a good conspiracy. Could the future seea site which aggregates blog postings to provide an average overall user opinion? Will there even be a need for review sites and the news in the future?
It's fantastically ironic that the United States, which spent some 50 years in the Cold War against Communism in the real world, is now "overseeing" it in the virtual one. And yet, the world’s largest Communist state employs the most restrictions as to what people can see and do on the internet, as well as putting more journalists and bloggers in jail than any other country.
But did the Cold War ever really end? Now we have the Russians with their fists held high fighting the fat cat, four letter corporate machines in America with allofmp3.com
. Not that I intend to be controversial here, but people have voted with their wallets on that one.
Admittedly, countries now have laws in place to stop people from abusing the internet and to re-associate it with the real world. Digital crime is still crime, and the stakes are high. Viruses - more in 2006 than before. Phishing - more. Online fraud - 8000% increase in the last year, hardly showing a sense of community spirit. MySpace is trying to regulate itself in order to stop paedophiles and other sex offenders from signing up, but due to the very nature of the internet, what's to stop these people from creating accounts with false information? Virus writers have secret auctions where they will offer to write code to steal people’s identities and information so other people can get more stuff "for free". The Communist state of the Web is suddenly not sounding so great after all.
Perhaps what Karl Marx didn’t count on was that chaos would be the ultimate instrument for the distribution of content. On the internet, everyone does their own little bit to link, digg, blog, delicious, comment, post, and essentially continue the unpredictable network of chaotic information translation. By creating social networking sites, these act as hubs for people to gather data that is then redistributed
. Again, the end user sees all this done for them essentially for free. With everyone doing as much or as little as they want, virtually all the interactions are then positive and constructive. OK, so people may leave negative comments or not like some stuff, but when people’s willingness to use social networking stops, then they go do something else, rather than acting resentfully or negatively. They aren’t tied into a commitment, yet they still do it because the little they know that on the grand scale
of things, someone
reads their posts, their comments, their links, their “voice”
. Is Web 2.0 Communism essentially an ego boost?
Surely the answer to that is yes - why else do people submit to digg, if not to get their names read out on Diggnation by Alex or Kevin, so they can then add to that aforementioned ego. Only you know who you are
However, unlike "recycling to prevent global warming" or "voting in the next election" - ideas being pushed in our existing, capitalist society - it seems internet contribution has a readily perceptible benefit to the end user, as we get back from these communities as much as we put in. People prefer to spend more time on the internet because people enjoy
adding and contributing to it even without an actual goal or end in sight, save the fame and glory.
Maybe a little
Communism isn’t all that bad after all - if we keep adding and creating in this Web 2.0 world, maybe something will turn out even greater than we’d have ever imagined? Will Web 2.0 turn out to be Marx's crowning glory?