Chapter Two: Cultural Globalization

V. The Internet

Technology impacts on individual brains by enlarging the cognitive space accessible to the human mind. The social group and language itself was the first adaptation used by humans to increase the amount of information available to individuals. Much later, humans used writing to record and store information they could not carry in their brains. Printing enormously extended the availability of written stores of material. Now, physical means of extending linguistic consciousness have been succeeded by other types of recording technique, including video, DVD, movies, and computer storage. All these add to the reach of consciousness and consequently the extent of human culture.

The Internet enormously expands the universe of cultural content available to an individual. Although life already seems unimaginable without the Internet, it has only been an embedded feature of normal life in advanced nations for less than fifteen years. There is therefore no adult generation for which the Internet has been an intrinsic part of their childhood, and no-one knows what will happen when the 'wired' generation now growing up starts to contribute to the cultural burden of society.

Unlike other inventions that have expanded human consciousness, however, the Internet plays to the strength of the human tendency to affiliate and associate.

A Californian e-Bay trader living in a 'gated' community who accumulates his profits in an offshore bank account (legal as long as he pays his taxes), spends his evenings on World of Warfare, chats with putative Ukrainian girl-friends over Skype, and goes to his tennis club (games set up using ICQ, of course, among club members) in the afternoons is about as detached from the conventional 'real'-world economy as he could be. Almost everything he does is the result of group activity and is governed by sets of group rules (laws) that are independent of the State's rule of law.

The insistent intrusion of 'trade' into Internet groups is no surprise to an evolutionary biologist: as noted both in the Introduction and in Chapter 1, trade was one of the first characteristic activities of human hunter-gatherer groups once they began to settle down, or perhaps even before. The instinct to trade is very deeply rooted in the human psyche, and sits on very nearly the same level of the unconscious as does groupishness. Nation states, among their other crimes, have tended to set severe limits to the ability of individuals to express their proclivity to trade, first by encouraging a pattern of existence in which people work until they are too tired to do more than go home and sleep, by marking off most 'professions' and reserving them to monopolistic groups of middle-class individuals, and by selling (also monopolistic) trading privileges in many economic sectors to individuals or companies.

The explosion in car-boot sales and 'Sunday markets' which followed the development of mass motoring in the UK bears graphic witness to the amount of bottled-up trading energy resident in wage-slaves. What is now happening on the Internet in terms of trading, through such as e-Bay and virtual reality environments will dwarf the car-boot phenomenon.

The impact of the Internet on society is explored in much greater depth in Chapter 7, while Virtual Internet Communities (VICs) such as World of Warcraft are analysed in Appendix 3.

Here, it is enough to note that the Internet will enormously enlarge the cultural psychological space occupied by private groups, widely defined, while tending to eat away at the cultural foot-print of national and quasi-State organizations by increasing the objectivity of individuals and leading them to question the right of such organizations to the cultural hegemony they claim.