Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.
A few days ago I finished reading a work entitled Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (2015).
According to the entry on Wikipedia, the author Philip N. Howard is a sociologist and communication researcher who studies the impact of information technologies on democracy and social inequality. Howard assumed a professorship in Internet Studies at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute on 1 July 2016.
In a brief description given on the website for the project, pax technica refers to what Howard sees as:
a future of global stability built upon device networks with immense potential for empowering citizens, making government transparent, and broadening information access.
I plan to write a detailed decolonial / counter-racist analysis and critique of this work in due course, drawing attention to what I perceive as
- the author’s framing of his argument against a tacit backdrop of ostensibly colour-blind (un-raced, race-less, de-raced etc.) liberal political commitments – what critical race philosopher Charles W. Mills refers to as the ‘ideal (social) contract’ masking the ‘racial contract’ associated with Racial Liberalism, and
- the mobilization of Orientalist logics in constructing a binary of ‘open and democratic’ vs. ‘closed and authoritarian’ societies, the latter of which is exemplified continuously by China (but also Iran, Turkey, Russia etc). (In this connection, I should like to refer interested readers to the following essay: Sayyid, S. (2005) Mirror, mirror: Western democrats, oriental despots? Ethnicities 5(1): 30-50.)
Howard contrasts the internet of the pax technica with China’s attempt to create its own rival, alternative internet and extend it to other parts of the world, rhetorically suggesting that the internet of the pax technica is somehow a poly-centric / non-centric / de-centred global technological force for good insofar as it is open and democratic (sic) in contrast to the provincial, closed and authoritarian internet being created by the Chinese. Yet what is completely missing – or rather, elided (obscured, concealed etc.) – from his argument is the fact that the internet of the pax technica is, in fact, highly centric, i.e. it is structured in terms of a core and periphery; moreover, this centrism is specific, viz. Eurocentric / West-centric.
What is further elided is that the internet historically-emerged in the US in the context of the Cold War as a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. While conceding that the historical origin of a thing does not necessarily determine what that thing might become, I want to suggest that we should not fall into the trap of ‘liquidating the historical’, and that at least in the case of the internet, its origins in Western military concerns is embedded through historically-sedimentation. One only needs to ask Who Controls The Internet? to gain some clarity on this point. For this reason, and notwithstanding decolonial (as contrasted with white / Western liberal) concerns about freedom, autonomy, censorship, surveillance, equality etc., I think it is interesting to consider China’s attempt to create a rival internet as a resistant intervention against US / Euro-American hegemony in the terrain of network technologies; in short a veritable ‘clash of (internet) civilizations’.
However, more on this in due course, God-Willing (insha’Allah).
For now, I want to turn attention to another work that I have just started reading:
I was particularly struck by the following extracts which appear on pages 6-9 in the Prologue which I reproduce here (with emphases added):
Thinking of the Internet as a physical thing has fallen so far out of fashion that we’re more likely to view it as an extension of our own minds than a machine. (p.6)
We seem to have exchanged thousands of years of mental cartography, a collective ordering of the earth going back to Homer, for a smooth, placeless world. The network’s physical reality is less than real—it’s irrelevant … [T]he Internet is a landscape of the mind. (p.7)
The Internet may seem to be everywhere—and in many ways it is—but it is also very clearly in some places more than others. The single whole is an illusion. The Internet has crossroads and superhighways, large monuments and quiet chapels. Our everyday experience of the Internet obscures that geography, flattening it and speeding it up beyond any recognition. (p.8)
The Internet has a seemingly infinite number of edges, but a shockingly small number of centers. (p.9)
For all the breathless talk of the supreme placelessness of our new digital age, when you pull back the curtain, the networks of the Internet are as fixed in real, physical places as any railroad or telephone system ever was. (p.9)
I’m extremely interested to explore the physicality (materiality, corporeality, embodiment etc.) of the internet – and the internet of things (IoT) – from a decolonial perspective in terms of geo-politics (where) and body-politics (who) of knowing and being. I then want to explore such materiality of internet connections – or ‘tubes’ – in terms of how such connections might be used to maintain, expand and refine global systemic White Supremacy (Racism) under late colonial modernity, thereby binding ‘the Other’ (the non-West, the Rest etc.) into a technological dependency complex.
In the meantime, I invite interested viewers to watch the following short video which graphically illustrates the where of the internet:
I should also like to draw viewers’ attentions to the following talks by Blum: