The simplifications of these polarities in the “Magna Carta,” and of Peter
Huber’s quote, are breathtaking.

First, the associations in the left-hand column (was it coincidence that
the negative elements of the table were assigned to the left-hand side?)
are completely arbitrary and in some cases inexplicable. Not only do we not
know what the fashionable but empty phrase “information superhighway”
actually means, but the associations it is assigned in the “Magna Carta”
are blatantly artificial and contrived. Why, for example, should the phrase
“information superhighway” be associated with the phrase “limited matter,”
whatever that means in itself, instead of with “unlimited knowledge,” as in
the right-hand column? The “information superhighway” and “cyberspace” are
equally vaporous terms, equally capable of being associated with anything,
either negative or positive. So the rest of the collection of associations
with the phrase “information superhighway” is just there as a list of what
the “authors” detest, rather than as important social factors substantively
connected.

Second, the artificial associations in the left-hand column, and the
equally artificial and gassy terms on the right, are opposed to each other
not to suggest positive alternatives to something we should all sensibly
oppose, but to stereotype, with negative associations, an “old” and
obsolete ideology in favor of a new, fashionable, and thoroughly right-wing
ideology. So, for example, unions are in the negative column–even though
it’s completely unclear what unions have to do with the “information
superhighway”–while they’re opposed to the innocuous and
progressive-sounding terms, “associations and volunteers.” These latter
terms are the sugar-coated, business-oriented antidote to trade unions.
“Associations and volunteers” will never threaten corporations, so for the
“Magna Carta” “authors” they must be preferable to organized workers with
real demands, discipline, and independent organizations with clout.

Unscrambling Peter Huber’s fracturing of economics would take several
megabytes. But the last sentence is the most suggestive: “Rich and poor
alike, we all run information deficits. We all take in more than we put
out.” This equation of the rich and poor in cyberspace is common now in the
writing and thinking of the “digiterati.” For people who spend a lot of
time in cyberspace, the trappings of the rich and poor mean less because
everyone appears in disembodied form, as pure text or as a graphic that is
no better and no worse than anyone else’s. Some of the so-called digital
intellectuals seem to have extrapolated from this feature of electronic
communication the idea that if we live in cyberspace, being poor or being
rich won’t mean what it has, or what it continues to mean in the “real
world.” Just as Russell Baker noted that almost no one would choose to take
a vacation in cyberspace if they could also choose Tuscany, no one in
cyberspace would choose to be poor if they could choose to be rich–the
suggestion that these things don’t matter, “because we all run information
deficits,” is comically, but also maddeningly, obtuse.


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