// Patrick Louis

Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control

The Actors and Incentives: Internet, In Between The Corporate, Private, And Public Spheres

For all are Men in Eternity, Rivers, Mountains, Cities, Villages. In your imagination, of which this World of Mortality is but a shadow. For it includes all things, and everything that exists, only exists through it

  • Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control
  • Part 2 — The Actors and Incentives
  • Section 2 — Internet, In Between The Corporate, Private, And Public Spheres
Table Of Content
  • Availability of Information
  • Networks And Cultures
  • Individuation
  • Self-Generated Societies
  • Making Up Your Own Mind + Learning & Creativity
  • Citizen Journalist
  • Cognitive effects
  • Private Life Becoming Public Life
  • Passion Economy
  • Extreme Noeliberalisation

The internet is a new resource and when introduced in our social structures it has fueled the construction of utilities around it. Like any tool it has no effects on its own but only through its usages. In particular, it has altered our capacity of communication making it interactive, multimodal, asynchronous or synchronous, global or local, many-to-many, one-to-many, one-to-object, object-to-object.
In this section we’ll go over some of the things the internet allows to do through the platforms and services hosted on it. We can’t go over everything because that would be equivalent to describing what modern life is about. Instead, we’ll paint a rough picture of the internet in between the corporate, private, and public sphere.

We can describe ourselves as an information society, an internet-everywhere society. Calling ourselves digital natives, digital citizens, digital cosmopolitans, and netizens.
Everything that can be digitized gets digitized. According to a study published by Martin Hilbert in Science in 2011, 95% of all information in existence on the planet is already digitized and accessible through the internet.
This has shrunk the globe, brought knowledge to everyone, altered the way we communicate and connect, changed the way we make money, and changed the way we think.

The internet reflects us, it can convey the best and worst of humankind. It is an open-ended system, like our societies, with the inter-relations mapped in the digital space, with all the same logics that exist between cultures, organizations, and technologies.
Similarly, the internet is networked and so are our societies: constructed around personal and organizational networks, without clear boundaries. Thus, the same paradigms and dynamics that apply in our real world are echoed online. Studying the internet is studying anthropology.

Previously we’ve seen how this bridging of cultures online makes us shift from high-context cultures to low-context ones, or informational ones. Because of this, we are forced to learn to communicate in a different way, with an emphasis on collaboration, learning to negotiate, to accept disagreement as normal.
Paradoxically, this has made us more socially conscious, and social in general, on the internet than in the physical world. There is less distance, it feels like the globe has shrunk, and that has intensified social interactions, for better or worse.
Some studies have observed that overall, there is a correlation between sociability and internet usage. This applies to civic engagements and other types of relationships. This is a new kind of sociability, one that is driven by permanent connectivity, especially on social media.

When bridging cultures a common language has to be chosen, and on the internet it is often English that dominates. It composes around 30% of the internet according to estimates, but isn’t the native tongue of most users. This can limit the spread of information from one cluster to another, create boundaries for communities, an inequality of information, an inequality of representation, and shape the digital experience and views of people on the internet. The language, and indirectly culture, barriers can direct the flow of information, tending in the direction where it is sometimes more domestic. We’ll get back to this in the consequences part of the series.

The apparent reduction in distance also creates networking opportunities. In the past interactions were limited to the personal networks; people being favored for whether they went to a prestigious school, university, or worked at a well-known company. These days we can be exposed to a diverse range of networks that are much more accessible, increasing the employment prospect.
This applies to creativity too, being exposed to so many diverse ideas, different ways to see a problem. Creativity is an import-export business. Taking things that are ordinary from multiple places and putting them in totally different settings. What is called cognitive diversity.
Additionally, widespread connectivity brings the possibility of working from almost anywhere in the world, at any time of the day, if the job doesn’t require to be on-place — that is if it is an information related job. This unlocks tremendous freedom and autonomy.

The concept of autonomy is an important one, as it relates to another one: individuation. When moving from high-context society to low-context information society, the process of individuation takes place. Some ironically calls it the “ME-centered” society, or the “selfie generation”. This isn’t something new, it’s been happening for a couple of years, but it is more widely spread and the internet is a catalyst.
Concretely, this translates into the decline of the definition of the self based on organizations and organizational roles, such as work, nation, and family. The individual is now in the center and doesn’t find meaning in these classical system, sometimes leading to a cross culture frustration.

Nevertheless, this is not the end of the concept of community but the end of having it based on places of interactions. Instead, it has shifted toward the self-authorship of the community, one based on personal ties, social relationships, individual interests, values, and projects. As a matter of fact, the individual is not isolated, nor less sociable, but redefined as a networked individual with a quest for like-minded people.
The information society is a network of self-authored individuals.

The transformation and evolution in culture bring with them a reorganization of economic, communication, and political activities. According to some research, it is correlated with a sense of empowerment, increased feelings of security, personal freedom, and influence — all in relation with overall happiness and well-being.

Whole communities join together and participate in their own identity development, as a choice. In this model, people replace blind reverence for authority with authenticity.
In the past information were shaped and based on hype, now people crave what is genuine and transparent. This is a change in perception with a focus on raw emotions and connections.

This authenticity is an essential aspect for identity development, it is how we identify ourselves and create our stories. Our narratives are based on our interactions in this participatory network. We are the creators, refining our persona with the help of the individuals that surround us, to whom we tell our story.
McAdams (1993) asserts, “Once an individual realizes that he or she is responsible for defining the self, the issue of self definition remains a preoccupation through most of the adult years”.

Being the subject, the individual, in the process of creation is what is meant by autonomy. This is accompanied by an urge to not submit to institutions, especially for minorities. This switch in mindset is highly correlated with social autonomy, independent-minded citizen able to participate in self-generated networks.
This autonomy materializes itself in society through entrepreneurship, creative works, proactive consumers, self-informed critical thinkers, pedagogical platforms that allow self-learning, e-governments, grassroots movements, etc..
The paper entitled “The Social Media Mindset” lists six major types of autonomy:

  • Professional development
  • Communicative autonomy
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Autonomy of the body
  • Sociopolitical participation
  • Personal, individual autonomy

More than anything, to be autonomous means mastering our tools, grasping how to make algorithms work for us. They are ubiquitous, we are surrounded by them, the internet is mediated by them. Hence, we need to muster their strength.
To be internet literate implies understanding the technology that drives it. The customization and recommendation engines can be used to facilitate our daily routine, letting the users create their own personal optimized environments.

Social networks are used to create our own constructed world, which includes everything from e-commerce, education, entertainment, to sociopolitical activism. The users group together according to their interests and tailor it to their needs. A self-constructed society with people yearning for honesty, genuineness, transparency, common interests, and connections.
Many of the real world has migrated to the internet, from web marketers, work organizations, service agencies, governments, and civil societies.
Technology, being material, is based on products made by people based on their ideas, values, and knowledge. We adapt the technology to fit us, rather than adopting it. It is built into our society and thus it has to follow its constraints. Obviously, social media platforms are trying to monetize the process, turning it into a business.

Collectively, this has brought us to an era of creativity. Where everything is a remix and shared. We aren’t bound by the mainstream media gatekeepers like TV, radio, newspapers, and academia. Information is now freely available on the internet, accessible by anyone, from the worst atrocities to the most awe-inspiring instances of human kindness.
In the internet society we are forced to broaden our collective perspective, a perspective that is more global.

The informational freedom carries with it transformations in the sociopolitical realm. There’s a widespread availability of tools for creating and distributing content across the globe. Most often, there is no need for training nor expertise to participate, everyone is empowered to mass media — A direct access to million of other people in an expanded community.
We bypass traditional media, letting us challenge the assertions of powerful corporations, government officials, news reports, and television advertisements. We do it through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and others.

Everyone is an author and can express their thoughts to the world and this undoubtedly means that some people are going to spread disinformation, misinformation, and other types of erroneous information.
Our new distrust in authority and increasing doubts, can be abused through our cognitive biases. The attention economy, with the never ending competition between all actors, is filled with manipulation.
This is something the netizens are slowly learning. We’ll come back to biases later.

The constant connectivity has given rise to a more democratic and participatory form of journalism: citizen journalists. The audience employs the press tools to inform one another. The public now plays the role of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information.

There are upsides and downsides to this new development. As we said, these are amateurs, people without journalism training, and so the quality of the reports and coverage can vary, is subjective, heavily opinionated, unregulated, and can be abused by malicious actors — such as spin doctors.
However, it can also promote human rights and democratic values to have the people join together and collaborate in this endeavor.

Social network websites, accessible to everyone, have provided an alternative for activists to report on their activities. Social media also allow real time participation and messages can be sent quickly in reaction to events.
This is particularly helpful during an earthquake, street movements, and protests.

Lots of things are now shaped and decided on the internet, it is tightly linked to political changes in the process. Citizen journalists now surround all the protests and movements these days. These movements, rejecting authority, are often without leaders, more spontaneous, and full of emotional outbursts.

The media of choice to express feelings about a situation are internet memes. They act like the modern era version of caricatures found in traditional newspapers.

Some memes have been put forward in democratic campaigns such as sharing messages about climate change. Though arguably, the research hasn’t found their impact in altering mindsets that impressive. In that study only 5% of participants changed their minds.
Memes, like caricatures, can also act as a power and counterpower, a battle of communication. Humor has always been a tool for people to express feelings and thoughts that were repressed, to fight against oppression.
This is the case in countries where people have to bypass censorship and rhetoric by reusing the semantic meaning of the slogans, ideas, and terminology. They reuse the language, twist it, satire it, to reinterpret it in their own way. They use the official language in reverse by applying it with humor.

Still, we have to remember that citizen reporting is full of biases, doubts, lies, polarization, conspiracy theories, and subjectivities. These can also obviously be manipulated by other actors, as we said.

Similar to citizen journalists we are seeing the rise of citizen science, which we won’t dive into here.

Let’s now jump a bit into some of the effects that being constantly online can have on our cognitive abilities. In a place of never-ending multitasking, attention economy, infobesity, and new social concepts.
This will be reviewed again in the consequences part of the series.

Our attention is now always divided between multiple media sources at the expense of sustained concentration. Everything tries to attract our attention in this hyperlinked addictive environment and we got used to it.
Education providers can already see the effects this has on children attention span: their attention is more shallow.
Studies show a significant effect on cognitive performance, where even short term engagement reduces attention scope for a sustained duration after coming offline.

Memory-wise, the vast array of information has changed the way we retrieve, store, and even value knowledge. The internet is now acting like a transactive memory, externalizing our thoughts — a helper, a memo, a memento.
We have most of the factual information in existence at our fingertips, introducing the possibility that the internet could ultimately negate or replace certain parts of our memory system, especially the semantic memory — memory of facts.
Multiple research show that people searching online were more likely to remember where they found the facts rather than the facts themselves. We are more reliant on the internet for information retrieval.
I’ve dived into this topic previously here and here.
At the group level this can be efficient but at the individual level it can hinder how we recall the actual information. The internet sometimes even bypasses the ability to retain where we found the information when it gives us the opportunity to search for it. We don’t have to remember the exact information anymore, nor where its located, just that it can be searched and that it’ll be available.
This cognitive offloading using an external long term storage can be beneficial to focus, not on facts, but on aspects that are not retrievable like meta information, conclusions, and emergent hypothesis. It frees some space to think about other things than plain facts.
Though other research show that analytical thinkers are less likely to rely on such means in their day-to-day than other people.

Cognitively, the internet also creates new ways to learn. Any new skills and information are available in this space. People now have more breadth of knowledge instead of depth of knowledge.

When it comes to social cognition, there are a lot of debates regarding whether the internet provokes the same effects as real interactions would. So far, the studies and evidences show that it does indeed reflect real things like self-concepts and self-esteem. We clearly see this through the neurocognitive responses to online social interactions.
These online social relationships, like any relationships, are connected to feelings of happiness, and mental and physical well-being. Thus being accepted or rejected online feels the same way in the brain, an interpretation, which we’d like to remember, in the offline world is often ambiguous and left to self-interpretation.
However, on social media, unlike the real world, we are presented with clear metrics which give us an indication of whether we fit in or not. They take the form of “followers”, “shares”, “likes”, “friends”. The potential can be painful, or addictive because of the immediacy. There is a direct feedback on our self-esteem.
Additionally, the public life on these social media also means that upward social comparisons are omnipresent. People take part in artificial environments manufactured to picture hyper-successful persona. Obviously, this is what the platforms capitalize on. You can go back to the previous section to get an idea.

On social media we aren’t anonymous but often create persona, a self-presentation of a real person. One that we mold to be perfect. Everyone has the ability to become an orator, a super-star in front of a gigantic crowd. An online life is like being followed by a million paparazzi.

We know that the medium is quick, indelible, and that a misstep can make us victim of the internet outrage machine. Be it positive, or not, because of private justice or vigilantism, or any other reasons. We are intimately aware of how extreme views proliferate and how ideas are hard to separate — always coming as blocks, hooks, and anchors.

With social media our personal life and work life are intertwined, they come as a package that can’t be separated. Our views in one field can propagate and affect other aspects of our lives.
Personal life is now public life, and not only for celebrities.

This is compounded with the feeling of always being scored and tracked. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies.

Having private personal details online and our digital reputation can have repercussions in the real world affecting our relationships, job opportunities, bank loans, visa applications, and more.
It is hard to erase something once it is on the internet, and so we apply self-surveillance between ourselves. Indeed, we know our weaknesses are mapped and become increasingly transparent and this leads to self-censorship, conformity, risk-aversion, and social rigidity.
This is a phenomenon called “social cooling”. “You feel you are being watched, you change your behavior.” Isn’t this a form of censorship? Privacy is the right to be imperfect and not judged. We’ll come back to this in the last section of the article when discussing some of the solutions.

I was told that I couldn’t be trusted since people can’t check online what I’m doing when I’m not around.

On the good side, the ability to easily get exposure, the appetite for authenticity, and the itch for autonomy have given birth to the passion economy.
The passion economy consists of taking the cliché of “following your passion” to the extreme. While it didn’t work properly in the past, it is now increasingly easier to achieve, either through an online patronage system or simply because of the new exposure.
The individual is empowered and liberated from previous notions of fixed career path.

The passion economy is centered around purposeful creators that are motivated and driven by their passion, displaying their expertise and experiences with the world.

The audience is as passionate and niche as the creator, influenced and transported through the craft. This is in stark contrast with the apathetic consumers of previous years that made price-focused decision about trinkets of mass productions.
People want to be involved in the making process, they want the whole experience, to engage with the services and ideas they like, to associate with their stories, to build a relationship with the authors. They want to find individuality in their products.

Along with an always public life comes the idolization of hyper-successful individuals. There is a rise in unrealistic expectations of oneself.
Individuation puts the weight on people to find who they are, and it is easy to go back to role models for escapism. These people might in turn use their influence to create a monetizable audience.
The gold rush for scores and fame, the new cult of personality, the new promotional culture going viral.
This is the rise of the “influencers” who’ll sell their authenticity for paid product placements and advertisements.

Lastly, these coalesce — individuation, influencers, passion economy, private life becoming public life, and social media — into neoliberalization.
We’ll see more of this later, as it also depends on culture and how people perceive and use the internet in different ways.

This is the ailment of modern society in general, and the internet makes society more “modern”. A shift in motivations to be goal-oriented and efficient, instead of being based on the more traditional values.
The individuals, with the help of the internet, are now accustomed to marketing themselves as products. This is the modern rule of the game: corporate life merging with private life.

Many products are sold to fill this “need”. I’ll digress, as I have discussed this in other articles, and here. We’ll come back to this later.

This concludes our review of the person’s life on the internet in between the corporate, private, and public spheres. We started by seeing how the availability of information is now everywhere and shrinks distances. Then we’ve taken a look at the relationship between networks in societies being mapped online and the effects on cultures. Next we’ve discussed the switch to the information society which creates a need for individuation, networks of people grouping based on their interests. Then we’ve seen how this allows self-generated societies and making our own mind about things. Later we’ve discussed the empowerment of the average person through citizen journalism. After that we’ve glanced at some of the cognitive effects in the realm of attention, memory, and social cognition. Following this we’ve concluded with three subjects: the private life becoming public, the passion economy, and a new extreme form of neoliberalisation that is normalized.

Table Of Content


Attributions: W. Blake, The Sun at its Eastern Gate, c 1815

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