Prisoners of the web

Posted on March 11, 2011 in Inclusion History

Source: — Authors: – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Thu Mar 10 2011.

Let me share a recent experience that may illuminate the youth role in the coming elections. In a course I teach each spring on media in the Canadian Studies program at University College, U of T, I had Jesse Hirsh as a guest.

Jesse took the same course about 15 years ago. He was brash, brazenly anarchist, stringy-haired, and something of a star as the youngest member of the (now largely dormant) Marshall McLuhan Centre. He’s aged well; he’s married, in his 30s, has a decent haircut and wardrobe, two small consulting firms, a website and a weekly gig on tech for CBC radio. Yet he retains the air of a somehow savvy anarchist dreamer. He guested last year too.

He began by telling them to view what he did as a performance meant to provoke. I thought they’d be put off. Students are quick to detect pretense in their elders. But they loved his shtick. I think it had to do with a sympathy he expressed for their plight as the Internet generation (my clunky term, not his). They possess sophisticated skills, make fast connections, express themselves elegantly — yet have no clear way to ever earn enough from all that to move out of their parents’ basements unless they also go to law or business school.

This year he began by saying we’re all F.U.C.T., which he said stood for, Fully Under the Control of Technology. Meaning above all the Internet. He said it amounts to their religion; it surrounds their lives with meanings, as Catholicism did in the Middle Ages. It is their spiritual reality, which is a virtual one.

Yet nothing in the adult world, especially politically, reflects this as their source of connection and identity. There is no minister for the Internet, though smaller constituencies are served by government departments. In policy debates, there is no option for a free Internet; the cost will stay the same or rise. No wonder politics makes little sense to many of them, he said. They know other issues matter but the central reality of their own lives goes unrecognized.

It made me think of the late historian Tony Judt’s last book, Ill Fares the Land. Judt said that for most of history, politics was irrelevant to most people. It was the realm of the elite, foreign wars and high ritual or symbolism. Then for a brief remarkable period last century, between the 1930s and 1980s, it sought to enter and alter normal life: reducing inequality, generating decent jobs, housing, education — even making art and culture widely accessible.

Governments began to backtrack in the late 20th century, though, and younger generations now hardly understand how politics could matter. Even universal health care, in most cases, hasn’t affected them yet. So voting declines generally and especially among youth who see governments talk about cutting budgets and downgrading or eliminating what they already do far less of. It’s a perfect recipe for alienation from the political process. I could see heads nodding in class.

At the end, as I tried to rise from my seat (impeded, literally, by a bad leg) and offer de rigueur thanks, a student in the back row beat me to it, saying, “On behalf of the class I want to thank you for coming and talking to us.” I’ve never seen that. It was utterly spontaneous, as if he wanted to voice the collective mind. I’m not sure what it sprang from. Maybe he (and they) were grateful for Jesse’s understanding of their shaky economic status, or their “spiritual” base in virtual reality or the alienation they feel from the political process — but done in a way that was compassionate and non-judgmental — as if Jesse knew they regret the barriers that distance them from politics. It’s hard to say.

I felt like Mr. Jones. Something was happening, but I didn’t quite know what it was.

<–prisoners-of-the-web >

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One Response to “Prisoners of the web”

  1. Sarah Nelson says:

    This, so called noted speaker, Jesse Hirsh, is irresponsible and self-serving. He calls himself, ‘Broadcaster, Speaker, Researcher and Strategist’ ( and reading his blurbs such as, ‘Ten things you can do to change the world’ has done nothing but affirm my feelings. [For instance, he states, #6, that one should, ‘Participate in counter-surveillance’ and in the same paragraph, state,’… develop counter-surveillance practices and habits so as not to make it easy for our rights and civil liberties to be violated’. ( This was not well thought out, and luckily, not well received by readers!]

    Sorry to digress so early, back on topic. The internet is and was known as the ‘information highway’. It in itself does nothing except provide access to the things we feel are important to ourselves. The single biggest change that has occurred since the internet has become widely accepted is the sheer speed at which we can attain volumes of information.

    He talks of why there is no free internet. Our society is built on free enterprise. Budding entrepreneurs aspire to make a living serving up internet connections. Why would we want to change this model unless the push for a socialist/communist political society is what is sought? If this was the case, this whole article would be pointless as voting would be, unneeded, for young and old alike!

    It is outrageous to think that ‘…politics makes little sense to many of them…’ (Salutin, para. 5) because the internet is their (today’s youth) single purpose to live; equating it with religion is ludicrous.

    The internet gives one a simple path to learn and discover virtually anything the world has to offer, good and bad, entertaining or morose, informative or for play; very simply, what holds interest for one does not interest all. At what station you are in life, or what challenges you encounter daily more often dictates your surfing adventures.

    If politics does not interest you, you do not venture down this path even with today’s internet, or prior to the internet. ‘Kids’ as he refers to the younger generation, would include anyone who can read his rant, certainly have the capability to know if politics and the current issues at hand are something they need or want to participate in. There are countless numbers of youth movements in the realm of politics, just as many as there are those watching kickboxing or downloading the latest top ten hit. ‘Kids’ as far as I am concerned are not given credit where credit is due. Adults, in his ‘adult world’ have set their life in motion and politics is easier to find a hole to fill in what otherwise might be a dull moment. A twenty year old university student, living away from home, with a part time job, boyfriend, and hobbies has different energy levels or time constraints than does most of the ‘adult’ world. Politics is present, but not pressing.

    His drivel comes back onto itself as often as a politician flip-flops on the party line. First he says, ‘Yet nothing in the adult world, especially politically, reflects this as their source of connection and identity.’ (Salutin, para. 5) Then goes on to say, ‘…for most of history, politics was irrelevant to most people.’ (Salutin, para. 6) The internet did nothing to change this except make those interested in politics more in the know. The reference to greater interest in politics (and everything surrounding this) through the 30s to the 80s is due to the same fundamental driving force, mass communication. Radio, newsprint and television, the precursor to the internet, opened the world to many who only years earlier had no idea that wars were raging in their backyard or that famine was taking hold on their neighbour’s children.

    Facts are facts and few, if any present themselves in this lopsided expression in talking with no merit. The voting interest of the youth has never been higher in recent years. Taking the numbers of young voters compared to all voters, the young voters are out in droves compared to the pre-internet era. It seems voting has lost favour with all; however, the young voter, now more informed than ever, and possibly with more free time than ever (need information for an assignment, it’s a click away, not a bus ride to the library).

    The facts; just before the internet started to hit its stride the percent of registered voters who actually came out to vote in 1984 and 1988 were over 75%. For 2008 and 2011, the numbers fell to approximately 60%. (
    Certainly young voters did not account for this much of a drop especially since the age demographic has far more people in their 50s and beyond then ever! To be clear, the internet is not responsible for such a dramatic downward spiral in voter turn-out. Consequently, it certainly cannot be blamed for the reason ‘adult’ voters do not get out and vote. It seems ‘kids’ are still voting at the same rate they have been for many years, but now the reasons for not voting hinges on the belief that the various parties don’t offer significant platform alternatives. The internet has dumped this newfound knowledge seamlessly to anyone surfing the net, and in my mind 18-25 year olds do this most. ‘Kids’, especially first time voters do not have allegiance’s or loyalties to specific parties or leaders of, and therefore do not consider it a big deal on whomever wins… so why vote!

    Never could these words be so misinformed. ‘…among youth who see governments talk about cutting budgets and downgrading or eliminating what they already do far less of. It’s a perfect recipe for alienation from the political process…’ (Salutin, para. 7) The contrary is truer than ever. (Except maybe in the rebellious ‘flower-child’ era of the 60s where it was ‘in/cool’ to protest for any civil-minded issue. To be fair, the results of the youth from that era speak loudly now as to how our policies have been created and implemented). From pay equity, to equal hire, to barrier free buildings, it was the youth in every generation driving the ‘adult world’ to make resounding changes for the good. This continues today and will continue through my own and next generations of progeny. I for one vote, and sometimes my candidate have won. One vote might not make that much difference, but my one voice can. When my voice is joined in part by the youth of my neighbourhood, school, community, world, we do make a difference. It all starts with one, and as misguided as Jesse Hirsh is with F.U.C.T ‘Fully Under the Control of Technology’, the internet and associated technology serves a purpose for the youth, rather than the youth serving the internet.

    The youth today can express discomfort with all types of legislation (proposed or passed). The likes of Facebook, YouTube, Blogging, etc. give us all a pulpit to scream out our anguish in moral wrongdoings. But with the internet, our pulpit is far reaching and heard by more than the ignorant youth as Jesse believes we all are.

    I for one and my group of immediate friends, colleagues and family will not stand pat and watch others in the political world undermine my future. We will push for prosperity, quality of life, and a happy, healthy environment for me to watch my grandchildren live through their own ‘internet’ revolution.


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