Deserting the Digital Utopia


The Internet has often been compared to the Wild West: a largely unregulated space rich in opportunities, in which people may experiment with new relations. Most commentators miss the full implications of this metaphor. The Wild West was the final frontier of colonization, where the last zones of ungoverned territory were mapped, stripped of resources, and integrated into state control. Many who fled to the Wild West in search of freedom only accelerated this process of colonization. Similarly, those who champion the Internet as the new frontier of freedom may inadvertently hasten the enclosure of the last aspects of human life that remain outside the economy.

The Net is indubitably the front lines of the battle against enclosure, and it is essential to fight on the territory it presents. But should the object of that fight be to establish a democratic digital utopia? Understanding the original meaning of “computer” as a human being reduced to an algorithmic device, we set out to trace the relationship between capitalism and digitization and to imagine a digital resistance to computing itself.

Deserting the Digital Utopia: Computers Against Computing

5 thoughts on “Deserting the Digital Utopia

  1. Disagree. Like verbal language, the language of the internet gives us a new means of creation. The spread of information has often lead to the loss of control for those who rule through ignorance and fear. Right now, we are at an exciting stage of evolution where the possibilities of creation, interaction, organization, and economy can take place in a decentralized form, with individuals acting collectively (voluntarily, autonomously). We are fast then the old guard. They can’t keep up with the hive. You can reject possibilities if you want, go live in hunter gatherer tribes with no verbal communication. Fine with me. But I believe in the potential of human evolution. And the tools of creation, sharing, and eventually, technological expansion of our consciousness are about to give rise to a new species. But this is a critical moment. Will this evolution be a new means of control, an anti-human dystopia? Or a new wonderland that moves humans beyond our historical limitations? The future is up to us, and the battle is on for the future of the self-aware portion of the universe.


    “Stigmergy is the highest development, simultaneously, of collectivism and individualism, without either being compromised or impaired by the other. As in Star Trek’s Borg Collective, the innovation or discovery of any member quickly becomes the common knowledge of all—but unlike the Borg collective, the individual is not subordinated to the group. This is why stigmergic organization, while exponentially increasing the possibilities of collective action, is also the highest development of individualism. All decisions are decisions of individuals, acting for themselves alone. The individual’s work is coordinated with a larger project (as for example in wikis) by the individual, with the individual designing a component to fit a selected interface in a preexisting project or platform.”

  3. To be clear, Dave, the above essay does not pose only two options (dystopia or wonderland). Your assumption (that the alternative to endorsing digital utopianism is to “go live in hunter gatherer tribes with no verbal communication”) is unfounded.

    Rather, the essay identifies several serious drawbacks of the contemporary digital (none of which you engage with above), and suggests that blanket endorsements are likely only to magnify them. The alternative is a sort of “digital insurrectionism,” a way of fighting that seeks to engage on the terrain of the digital in order to create breaches within it. Without such breaches, in a digital world dominated by Facebook, Google, and other willing accomplices of the NSA, we can be certain that the “wonderland” people like you forecast will be a nightmare. In the post-Snowden era, it has never been more timely to come up with a way of strategizing that doesn’t presume more digitization–of any kind–to be a positive thing.

    Incidentally, this is comparable to the position CrimethInc. texts generally take in reference to language: that we cannot accept it as is, but rather that it is a terrain on which we must engage in struggles to redefine possibility by rejecting the current forms. This is a far cry from the total rejection of language implied by John Zerzan, which you seem to be projecting here.

    And, not to be a besserwisser, but please be careful with language that ties “human evolution” to certain technological developments. The notion that those with more Western technology are more “highly evolved” has explicitly racist roots and has been used to justify genocide, as well as the obliteration of other cultures’ equally sophisticated (if non-digital) technologies.

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