The Modern Opiate of the Masses

I am not one such that blindly embraces Progress, or adopts Change for its own sake. My cellphone screen is green-and-white; my home phones are rotary. My cameras use film, my bicycles are steel, I wear a pocket watch, and I still write – on paper – with a fountain pen. To a very great extent, the toys and trappings of the modern era hold little attraction; they are a collective source of apathy and indifference for me.

Some days, though, I’d really like a fast internet connection that worked with some degree of regularity.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another long rant about the institutional incompetence of Qwest, the monopolistic local telecommunications provider…

Living, as I do, in the midwestern heartland of the freaking country that invented the internet, it never fails to amuse me how much better internet service is in other parts of the world. Like the United Kingdom. Or Germany. Or mainland China, for that matter. And it never fails to sadden me just how little, by any system of measurement, the United States is investing in communications infrastructure.

This got me to wondering, as I trued a bike wheel the other day, whether some countries, at least, are using – one presumes knowingly and willingly – ever-improving internet speeds as a panacea for social ills. Unemployment high? Inflation at outrageous levels? Widespread and growing displeasure at government institutions, financial and otherwise? Simmering racial disharmony in the face of heavy immigration? Quick, let’s pump a few million of the local currency into high-speed fiber broadband infrastructure, and give people an endless supply of porn, pirated software, and banal gossip for the price of a couple of cheeseburgers per month!

Might broadband internet be (an) opiate of the masses, in parts of the world that aren’t quite so freedom-loving as blue-blooded Eagleland?

It’s not implausible, alas. Once the whole “are educated proles a danger?” question was decided a few centuries ago, Magnificently Evil Bastards have strived to proffer the working class a steady stream of affordable entertainment to help them temporarily forget their plight. Vaudeville shows; cinemas; penny novels; magazines; radio shows; competitive athletics… anything to easily distract the have-nots from their status will always stay in favor.

The internet, it could be argued, plays the same social role today that broadsheets and penny novels played a century or so ago.

Now, I’m not saying that every country with investments in modern telecommunications infrastructure are trying to keep the sheeple docile… but when I hear about the latest country to get 100Mbps domestic internet, for the same price or less than what I’m paying for 1Mbps-ish ADSL, well, I have to admit I do wonder just how bad the local government is screwing over the little guy, there. There are exceptions, obviously, but one of the few things the many countries with widespread and persistent social problems and a lack of civil unrest have in common is… cheap and fast internet access. Coincidence? I have to wonder.

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on November 9th, 2010| Comments Off on The Modern Opiate of the Masses

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