'We're Creating Our Own Evolutionary Next Step'

Wired co-founder Louis Rossetto on the digital revolution and the death of the megastate.

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Rossetto: I guess one of the regrets I have for Wired is that throughout the time that I was there, we tried to focus not on politics and on government but on those agents of change-on those tools and instruments which could make a better world. And I think to some degree we've had a certain amount of success with that. We had Clinton say the era of big government is over, and I think there was a lot of focus on the possibilities of creating a new future for ourselves by ourselves.

reason: It really did seem that way throughout the '90s, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War and the rise of computer technology: the idea that politics wasn't going to matter as much. But then, after 9/11, it seemed that politics expanded. We seem to be in an era now where politics is very much in the way because of the way the government spends, the way it regulates. It gets in the way of everything.

Rossetto: Well, it always did. But I think it's even more present in our lives because the remnants of big media tend to focus on it. And because they're advocates of it, in general, it becomes the major story that they talk about.

I'm not sure it's the real story. I mean, government has always been dysfunctional, it's always been a producer of unintended consequences, and it's always made messes of all sorts of stuff. And it's still doing the same thing now. I don't think much has changed.

What happened after the '90s was the sort of regression into the kind of primitive, political division that might have characterized the 19th century. The kind of vitriol that you throw at your enemies. It's become institutionalized.

reason: Fewer people care about politics in the sense that fewer people are willing to identify as liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. But the people who do-the dead-enders-are much more fiercely committed to that as a primary identity.

Rossetto: Yeah. If you're a normal person, why would you want to engage in the mud battles that are going on with basically psychopathic people? People who are involved in politics, going back to Wilhelm Reich, are emotional cripples of some sort who are working out their psychoses on the public at large. Why would a normal person want to associate with that?

reason: Let's be clear, Wilhelm Reich understood psychopathology from the inside as well.

Rossetto: He was an expert. Let's put it that way.

To go back to the beginning question: That was what went wrong. People devolved into politics again where they had started to step out of it.

The message, though, is still the same-and maybe even more pressing. Because the digital revolution has been marching through society and demolishing institutions that have been essential in lots of ways. Whether it's education or the court system or the police or whatever, they've been developed over centuries, and they're no longer relevant or they're obsolete or they're counterproductive or they're destructive. So there's a real need for something else. And what that something else is-and this is also an outgrowth of the digital revolution-is for citizens, humans, to recapture the civic space from those institutions. If there is a better future, it's gonna be because individuals and families and the institutions that they work with, at whatever level, decide to take power back and work directly to make that better world.

reason: Are there examples that you can point to? Is YouTube that kind of space? Is that a new public sphere that is more participatory? Is Whole Foods an improvement over old-style supermarkets? What are the types of demonstration projects out there that get your energy up?

Rossetto: It's tweets, it's YouTube, it's Instagram. It's all the places where you can have, for want of a better word, a democratic discussion where it's unimpeded by the gatekeepers and media. That's an amazing step forward. And that also gives me hope that the gatekeepers and the media are on their way out in general. There's a Rossetto law of media, which is it's a zero sum game. If you're looking at Twitter or YouTube, you're not watching NBC or reading The New York Times. You're leeching attention from them, which is the thing that they need the most. And with that rediversion of attention, you start to have a different kind of political or idea environment than you had before.

reason: You've got kids. When you think about the future, do you expect that their future will be brighter than yours was, as yours was brighter than your parents' and grandparents'? Or do you wake up with fear and trembling?

Rossetto: I look at my own children, and I think they're capable of finding their way in the world and succeeding no matter what. I worry that the environment that they're gonna be operating in is going to be a lot more challenging than it was for me.

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  • Heroic Mulatto||

    it's YouTube ... It's all the places where you can have, for want of a better word, a democratic discussion where it's unimpeded by the gatekeepers and media.

    Unless you film a video that hurts the sentiments of the world's Muslim community, of course.

  • ||

    He wants us to ask ToughQuestions and PostThem to YouTube?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If by "ToughQuestions" you mean "a monkey forcing anal and oral sex upon a goat, then yes.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • ||

    Protect US? I assumed he was had collaborated with the squirrels to protect the poor Youtubers FROM us. Truly, they do not yet know the depths of human depravity we are capable of.

  • ||

    I was making fun of LoneWacko. Oh wait, so were you.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The goat was Mexican.

  • mtrueman||

    I'm no fan of youtube, but I think the most profoundly challenging development that the internet represents to the old order is file sharing and the open source software movement. In some sense, these are both anti-individual and anti-private property. Post scarcity too. Not positions one imagines libertarians taking lightly.

  • ||

    In some sense, these are both anti-individual and anti-private property.

    Holy shit what a mind numbingly ignorant statement.

  • mtrueman||

    "Holy shit what a mind numbingly ignorant statement."

    I see no argument here. Waste someone else's time.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    "We're verging into Singularity territory."

    I would have prefered "we're Vingeing into Singularity territory...

  • JWatts||

  • lisa901||

    Google is the #1 internet site in the world. Start working at home with Google! Just work for few hours & have more time with friends & family. I earn up to $500/week. It's a great work at home opportunity. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out. Linked here www.Pow6.com

  • Combat Missionary||

    Rosetto is actually right. Just like printing threatened the Vatican (not a statement against Catholicism, just an observation), the internet and digital communications is the ultimate in being able to ask every question and hear every viewpoint. It's the ultimate in free association and exchange of ideas.

    The real question is this: how many people in America (short-term) and the world over (long-term) are INTERESTED in doing their own thing, and not living on government cheese? You think America is polarizing now? Ultimately, the like-minded are moving to live in areas with like-minded people. Will we devolve into city-states rather than a federal republic? Socialism in Sacramento, free-market in Reno, libertarian in Los Angeles? Or will we retain a federal republic as we see the decentralization and scaling back of the fed as the states begin reserving the right of self-government?

    As with printing, I think the genie's out of the bottle. I don't see a devolution into nationwide totalitarianism. Digital free association combined with the fact that the number of lawful gun owners outnumbers all local, state and federal law enforcement plus Guard, Reserve and active duty military combined by ten-to-one says that it's highly unlikely. Not to mention that totalitarian states always end up starving the citizens to feed the enforcers. So WHEN and HOW will the fed be scaled back?

  • Don'tTreadOnMe||

    Libertarian LA? So I'm gonna assume you've never been there or anywhere else in the southern part of the statiest of states.

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  • Eric Bana||


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