Masthead CMC Magazine / April 1, 1996
 The Status of the Information Society, by Michel Bauwens

On the Struggle Between Digital Jacobin and Girondins

For the moment, the Third Wave forces seem united against the Second Wave forces represented by the bureaucratic institutions of mass society. Will this unity flounder into competing digital Jacobins and Girondins, once the old order is overthrown?

I had the opportunity to witness the first conference of the ^American Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF), led by Newt Gingrich, an organization which seems to represent the economic forces creating (or rather, we should say, financing) the technology. What was puzzling to me as an observer from Europe, and perhaps even shocking, was that not all speakers were Republican, yet speaker after speaker seemed to express a visceral hatred of anything that hinted at the role of the state, or even the simple idea of welfare assistance for those in need. Especially puzzling was the fact that the board included people not usually associated with Newt Gingrich. I'm thinking of Esther Dyson, and even of Alvin Toffler, who, though known as a personal friend of the Gingrich's, is not a rabid right winger or free-marketeer.

So, such a (moderately) bipartisan gathering would suggest a temporary bi-partisan alliance between left and right Third Wave forces, if they do exist. The idea here is that just as the French Revolution originally united Girondins and radically populist Jacobins, that similarly cyberspace forces would unite to overthrow Second Wave political forces, and would split up after achieving victory. It is too early to say whether the PFF will not have ^discredited itself before such a process could consolidate. As it turns out, debate on the Internet was quite critical of the PFF.

If such a split occurs we'll have a right wing, represented by the financial and economic forces now busily commercializing cyberspace. The forces of "Digital Capital," if you like. But even this wing will be a vortex of contending forces, with on the one hand the forces of the old telecom, mainframe and PC technology, i.e. the Bill Gates and John Malone's of this world; and on the other hand the new wave of Internet cyberpreneurs, i.e. the Marc Andreessen's. They'll have their own extreme right-wing of cyber-libertarians with political leaders such as Gingrich and ideologues such as George Gilder and a moderate wing, perhaps best represented by the ideology of Al Gore.

The left will have its wide variety of factions as well with civil libertarians (EFF), social activists (CPSR, Loka Institute, the movement for Free-Nets), and their own more radical manifestations such as cyber-marxists (the Tofflerian Marxists of the Cy.rev group) as well as the California-based counter-cultural manifestations. The social base of the left cyber-forces may be the growing group of knowledge workers making a living through cyberspace-based activities. These may be seen as the forces of "Digital Labor."

Both forces of the left and right will be united against the stifling regulations and mass institutions of the Second Wave, and on issues like censorship, but they'll be divided on issues like universal access, and the relative role of the state in insuring such democratic access. --


CMC Magazine Index
Contents Archive Sponsors Studies Contact