Meanwhile in a Parallel Universe…

By Serra Sezgin, Ankara University, Faculty of Communication

Like these memes[1], in popular culture, a parallel universe is basically described where the used ones become the users, where the weak ones are strong and vice versa. An imagined parallel universe refers to a world where power balances become upside-down; such as a tree painting Bob Ross or flowers giving each other humans. In a parallel universe, objects and subjects, controllers and the controlled ones are interchange. From this perspective, may the online world be a parallel universe?

meanwhile2...

On the one hand, if we are talking about the world, the society that we live in today, it is not possible to describe it without networks, cables, hardware or software which belong to the online world. Then the offline world is not offline at all while including all these. Likewise, the online world is not a space which totally free from the offline one (do you think I am not myself at GTA or LOL?) Instead of being parallel universes, online and offline spaces should be described as engaged and embedded to our daily lives.

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On the other hand, as seen in the memes, to consider the online world as a parallel universe, the means of control should have been upside down. Are the ones/things who rule the offline world has been changed? All these networks, hardware and software that supposed to be the objects are now controlling the human race? Are computers really going to capture us in the future? It does not seem like they will, since the only capturer is still the same human being in 2016. The law makers, controllers, the ones holding the power of the offline world are also the ones who harvest the online world.

What makes us think online world is a parallel universe is probably the opportunities that internet creates, the liberating side of new media. Instead of a few powerful people controlling what the majority see and hear, the majority can now produce and reproduce media.[2] This decentralization of production of the media content and the control of media, compose the democratizing, emancipatory and empowering characteristics of the internet.[3] But empowering who? Democratizing which relations? There are studies show the digital divide in order to gender, geography, literacy, economic or social class etc. and they reveal that there is definitely a division. Additionally, providing users with a certain kind of control like creating their own pages, profiles etc. the companies establish a broader economic and political controls over the whole system.[4]

While mentioning about the positive effects of online communication technologies or social media, such as participation, citizen journalism, and content production; we can’t speak for the whole population of the world. The people who participate cultural or economic production in this case, are the ones who have access to hardware -at least a smart phone-, software, the internet connection -which is not that cheap- and the literacy of media/internet. The literacy of digital age exists with the languages of programming.[5] Gursakal says “If you can’t program, then they will program.” Also as an individual, you may choose to be programmed but as a society or country, choosing to be programmed may cause bad results.[6]

Today; war, terror, immigration, hunger, environmental change are still the major problems of the world. What kind of contribution made by advanced technologies, especially the internet, for these problems? Thanks to Facebook, we can check ourselves as “safe” (if we are, and just for that moment) after massive attacks, but they are still happening –frequently- and we are not safe at all. We can sign petitions on “change.org” for starving people somewhere in the world but hunger, clean water and health problems are not solved somehow. We see dead children bodies washed ashore which makes our hearts bleed, yet war and the tragedy of immigration still lies just in front of our doors and it isn’t going any better. Even so, as Turkish citizens/opponents we owe online technology so much. That helped us to get information and transfer it through Gezi protests, it caused the government’s illegalities to reveal and spread worldwide in a short period of time. But yet nothing has changed, neither the government nor its politics.

Hinton and Hjorth define Web 2.0 as a contradiction: it is simultaneously empowering and exploitative, a platform for both control and freedom.[7] Then it would be unfair to say internet is useless or nothing has changed. Because “being aware of”, “to see” and availability to inform and to be informed, are truly valuable and this “privilege” cannot be ignored. There is a reason these days are called “information age”. Today the new capital is knowledge so the big data promises so much about the education, health services etc. What can be done by the whole data is just mind-blowing; they say that they are able to know what we want even before we do. “Emotional engineering” has become a thing, which the name speaks for itself and it’s scary. However, the real game changer is what we are going to do with all these data. Till now, big data seems big enough just for the capitalists, who are now not the ones that own factories but the ones that own the knowledge. There lies the problem, because knowledge comes with the power as Foucault said. The online technology carries so many opportunities and not bad at all by itself. Then, instead of questioning the human race, the desire to know, control and power; blaming technology or afraid of it, would be like blaming television for spreading bad news.

As a result, the internet has changed the universe. Today, the power may be shifted, the definitions of capital, labor and production may refer something broader or different. The end of an era and the beginning of a new one is being talked about. But again, is the online world a parallel universe? Well, creating opportunities is one thing, creating equal opportunities is another. Since the world is still struggling with hunger, we still afraid of being killed by a bomb or government forces on the street and equality is still nothing more than a dream, then, the online world is far from being a parallel universe; but probably it wouldn’t be bad if we had one.

[1] http://www.memecenter.com/search/parallel%20universe , 15 March 2016.

[2] Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth, Understanding Social Media (London: Sage, 2013), 22.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Necmi Gürsakal, Büyük Veri (Bursa: Dora, 2014), 106.

[6] Ibid., 107.

[7] Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth, Understanding Social Media (London: Sage, 2013), 20.

 

 

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