I was recently reading the book The will of knowledge by the 20th century philosopher Foucault on the repressive nature of the church in the 18th and 19th century towards sex.
Foucault states that by the church making sex into a repressive subject that cannot be discussed freely within our society, it has influenced the way we not only view sex and sexuality in our present society, but has also made our relationship to sex into a power struggle. Sex influences the way we relate to each other and even objects, yet must never be spoken of or related to (shows itself but is always hidden)( Foucault p25). The easiest example I have to share is the famous saying ‘Sex sells’. Where sex is hinted at but too explicitly shown. Foucault goes on to argue that sex is used as a tool for power, first controlled by the church and now within society which has lead other aspects of western culture to be repressive, such as the way we deal with other human faculties (such as emotions),which should be repressed or controlled rather than expressed freely in society.
He argues that as a consequence of the repression a new discourse emerged which seeks to push against the established power in order to “conjure away the present and appeal to the future who’s day we hastened by the contribution we believe we are making.”( Foucault P9)
To put it bluntly we seek to constantly push against the established repression and society’s boundaries by actively contributing to anti repressive nature of society. For example if we look at the 1960’s and 70’s we can argue that the shift in society’s values were a backlash from the 1940’s and 50’s repressive nature.
So where am I going with this?
What I’d like to do now is to bring us up to date and think about how we use the internet. Now the internet is a multi-faceted tool that we can use in a magnitude of ways, there is a commonality with most of it which is free expression. We can be who we want to be, watch what we want, when we want or say what we want to whom we want. In the past, people with the ability to broadcast their message were seen as visionaries who were moving society forward (for example film writers and directors). However, now the internet (due to its interactivity and connectedness) has given us all the ability to broadcast our views and emotions however we see fit.
In fact many of us have been so ‘free in our speech’ that the website Popular Science has disabled internet comments (particularly anonymous ones) as they “undermine the integrity of science and lead to a culture of aggression and mockery that hinders substantive discourse”.
The editor of the site picked out the anonymous entries as being the worst. It seems that many of us are using these ‘anonymous’ facilities on the internet as a way of unleashing not only our opinion but also our emotions in our delivery.
Let us return back to Foucault point on how we push against repression for a moment. It seems that Popular Science’s opinion highlights how many are using the internet as a way to vent their repressed emotions; this allows them to feel like they are contributing to the hastening of the future whilst giving the perception that we won’t be held viable for our actions.
The point I’m trying to make is that we have an outlet for our emotions and views where which we do not have to be held accountable for in either the physical or virtual world (internet and social media).
No wonder we have seen a growing rise in ‘trolls’ on the internet as this is a place they can express their anger and self-righteousness without feeling wholly responsible. There are no perceived repercussions, almost a world without consequence. I wonder how many people would freely express their views on an article or subject with such force in the physical world and yet many people feel able to in the virtual. They have found an outlet for their emotions and in the Trolls’ case, anger.
But it doesn’t stop there. That’s just one case of the magnitude of activities we can do on the internet (I’d like to look at others in more detail individually). For example, the rise in the viewing of pornography, online gambling, cheating using dating apps, playing games or downloading media illegally are just some examples of the growing trend that everyone has become accustomed to. It feels completely normal using their virtual alter ego but wouldn’t dream of doing any of it in the physical world.
What I worry about is that the prolonged exposure of the darker side of the internet will skew the view of many; especially the younger generation who have not known anything different. It will be intertwined in the way we act in the physical world (blurring the lines article). How far down the rabbit hole one goes is completely up to the user and the new society we all believe we are contributing to make.
The internet is a massive area in which we are able to express ourselves in a magnitude of ways, all whilst pushing against the norms of society but in a different way than before; in perceived anonymity.
No wonder many of us get addicted to this medium. It allows us to express our emotions in an otherwise repressive society whilst also feeling that we are changing the world and our society.
And the kicker is that all the expression and self-validation strengthens the integration and therefore the hold that tech has on us.
Foucault, M., Foucault, M., Foucault, M. and Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books.
Konnikova, M. (2013). The Psychology of Online Comments – The New Yorker. [online] The New Yorker. Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-psychology-of-online-comments. [Accessed 27 Jul. 2014].