I recently read Tom McCarthy’s novel C which I highly recommend. The novel deals with the transformative impact of technology on life in the twentieth century through one man’s engagement with radio, aeroplanes and and other new technologies. His perception is coloured by these technologies to the extent that he only sees the world as flat and in flux like it is seen from the cockpit of a plane.

One passage struck me in particular for the way it seemed to relate to contemporary socio-technical changes. One of the characters is explaining the rationale behind the founding of Alexandria, the character states that Alexander the Great:

“…wanted it to be the great hub of the world, connecting everywhere to everywhere else. More than that: it would be Greece’s grand self realisation, its ascent, beyond itself, into a universal condition.

Über-Greece: a kind of simulation better than the real thing ever was. His version would assimilate all other cultures, all their gods and figureheads and what have you else, and conjoin these beneath the canopy of a transcendent, modern Hellenism in which reason, science and knowledge would all flourish” 

This could easily be used to describe the internet (perhaps this is what McCarthy intended). Alexandria was intended to be a manifestation of the principles and values of Greece in the same way we can see the same relationship between the internet and it’s birthplace, California. Values built around the reverence of free sharing of knowledge, anti-hierarchy and “cool” bosses who dislike rules and suits and just want to inspire others are spread through the structures of the net and Ted talks.

The structures of the internet are a strange mix of hippy idealism, hard-nosed Ayn Rand inspired libertarianism and capitalistic entrepreneurialism all tied up in the language of freedom and sharing. These things came together in 1970s California then the tech upstarts sought to reproduce this for the rest of the world. It is this set of ideas and values which has been called the “Californian Ideology

The internet became the Über-California in a similar way as Alexandria did with Greece.

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