When I hear the word “utopia,” Fern Gully flashes in my mind. Weird. Apparently my “ideal society” is one where you can freely hide in glowing mushrooms and skip through puddles that light up before deforestation and pollution ruin the fun. I’m sure if you read between the lines in The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler imagines that as the perfect, free and just society, as well.
In all honesty, the chapters we read in The Wealth of Networks did raise some interesting points about the transformation of social production once you got past the overly-exaggerated jargon and complicated sentence structure. The chapter dedicated to social ties and networking together was the most thought-provoking for me, especially upon mention of the idea of “internet utopianism.” It got me thinking: Can the internet utopia spark a real-world utopia through the shift towards a networked information economy? (Sidenote: Ars Technica has a really interesting article relating to internet utopia)
To get to the crux of this question, I first had to scratch my initial definition of utopia:
Utopia /yo͞oˈtōpēə/ (n.):
Fern Gullyan imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect (as defined by Google dictionary); an ideal community or society possessing a desirable socio-politico-legal system (as defined by Wikipedia)
The internet has come to be a utopia in our society, and although many scholars warn against falling into it as Benkler suggests, I believe it is an immensely powerful, liberating phenomenon. The internet gives us the means to break free of societal boundaries and norms by way of communicating with one another to share information, constructively debate social issues, hear and understand different perspectives, and to build upon each others’ ideas to create something novel. The shift towards a networked information economy (one in which we easily share and produce information for free, in extremely simple terms) allows us to become active participants in society and challenges us to become more critical and reflective of our beliefs, laws, customs, etc. When we become more critical and reflective, we can see societal flaws clearly laid out and can then push for social reform where it’s needed. As more knowledge is gained in the internet utopia, we can begin to alter existing social conditions in reality and improve global justice and freedom. Obviously, I believe it’s impossible to reach a truly utopian society (impossible is something, Muhammad Ali…as beautiful, poetic, and empowering your words may be, I don’t see world peace happening); I do believe however, that the networked information economy can offer us the opportunity for global development and inspire the hope that we may inch closer to that perfect ideal.