Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Internet Lie #9

The Internet Gives People What They Want

The Internet grows in size and influence simply by giving people what they want—even when they don’t know what they want. (The latter is Google’s stated aim and expertise.) And even when people do know what they want, the Internet gives them something else to distract them. Instead of actually focusing on exact targets, most surfers spent their time pinballing. No longer wanting what they originally wanted, they now want this—whatever this of the moment is. This moment and the next and the next. And, in the end, people actually think they got what they wanted.

This may look like a simple variation of the corollary to Internet Lie #5: What you find on the Internet is what you want. But it’s more. It’s about the historical context of distraction.

As the Romans knew, giving the people what they want requires little more than bread and circuses. The bread, in the case of the Internet, is a given because access is almost exclusively in the hands of the world’s haves—those with literal and figurative bread. The have-nots can add the Internet to the list of things they have not. And while they may be a little short on the bread end, they’ve got plenty of other circuses.

It all comes down to circuses. And questions like, Is the Internet one big circus, or do sites like Facebook and Twitter count as individual circuses? Bread and Circuses is another, older name (Latin: panem et circenses) for superficial amusements. Bread and circuses satisfy people’s shallow desires. Bread and circuses are the easy way to distract a populace from things they should care about, things like the economy, the environment, and the future. Bread and circuses are what we’re getting from the Internet. Is that what you want?


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