If you read this blog, or if you follow my activity on Twitter, you may know that I have a fairly relaxed attitude towards the “dangers” of the digital world. The great majority of supposed perils correspond more or less to what happens in our offline lives, and – in our offline lives too – we tend to be vulnerable to external influences only up to a certain point (here an excellent paper argumenting that we are not as gullible as we think – in fact, as we think others are). I wrote about the digital spread of fake news mirroring the traditional spread of rumours (according to BuzzFeed, the fake news that generated more engagement on Facebook in 2017 is titled “Babysitter transported to hospital after inserting a baby in her vagina”), about the inconsistencies of the “post-truth” narrative, or about the exaggeration of the digital echo-chambers danger (I would probably write differently today these two, rather old, posts).
Everything is alright, then? In the last few months, I had a passing thought coming from the Houellebecq’s debut novel, Whatever (the strange translation of the original title Extension du domaine de la lutte). Since it still does not seem obviously wrong, and I just read an article citing the exact same paragraph (in a completely different context and, in fact, consistently with the Houellebecq’s one) I decided to write a post about it.
Here is the quotation:
Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperisation. Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never. Some make love with dozens of women; others with none. It’s what’s known as ‘the law of the market’. In an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal economic system, certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment in misery. In a totally liberal sexual system, certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude. Economic liberalism is an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society. Sexual liberalism is likewise an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society.
In sum, sexual liberalism, as economic liberalism, exacerbates inequality, and creates, as economic liberalism, an elite of individuals that have the big piece of the pie (sex, or money), while the others – the majority – have the crumbles. While this is wildly outside of my professional area of knowledge, I always found the idea stimulating.
Is it possible the Internet is doing something similar? Does the easy, cheap and immediate, access to an enormous amount of information creates an “informational elite” that uses this information in an efficient and productive way, while the others – the majority – have the crumbles? I can think about the existence of a relatively small number of educated, digital-smart, people that use wisely social media and research engines, do not waste (much) their time with fake news and useless information, and find quickly everything they need, in a way that was impossible until a few years ago, while other people use the Internet mainly to share quotations written on sunset pictures (if good) or to add angry comments to the clickbait of the day (if bad).
In a regulated informational system – think about, well, the world before the Internet… – everybody accesses more or less the same information (“classic” books, compulsory school, etc.), which is a disadvantage for the informational elite, but an advantage for the others.
As I said before, this goes well beyond my professional area of knowledge (I promise I will not write an academic paper about it), but it seems a possible reason why “more information is better” (which is what I believe) is not always true, at least at the societal level. I am happy to hear why I am wrong.