Adam Curtis on self-expression and the Internet
"Modern consumerism was rescued my the "Me" generation because it suddenly allowed you to sell lots and lots of different things to lots of different people who wanted to express themselves in different ways. Which means that the idea of self-expression becomes absolutely central to the power of modern capitalism. It's what drives it. So, if you then have a radical art, which is based on the idea of self-expression, which it is, then however radical your message is and however powerful what you're saying is, the fact that you're doing it through self-expression, means that actually what you're really doing is feeding the underlying ideology of modern consumer capitalism, because it depends on the whole idea that you're a self-expressing individual.
Someone once said to me that the most radical thing you can do these days is just not be self-expressive. And one person said to me that the most radical thing you can do is come out of your house one morning, turn right, walk across Europe on a line you've drawn across a map to Aleppo, get there and don't tell anyone. And don't write a book about it. That's the most radical thing you can do. And don't tweet it. Don't tell anyone."
"If you do live in a world that you feel that you are the central character in your story and you're not part of other groups then although it's very liberating, very empowering in some ways, it's also quite scary because you're on your own. And when things are bad, like being in the woods at night and it's dark, it can be quite scary. What Eliza showed is that if you feed back to people "themselves" and put them in a safe cocoon where they're constantly feeding, it's constantly feeding "you" back to you, you begin to feel safe and... I mean, I'm told it's what heroin is like, it's sort of like you get lost in a bubble."
"We've confused our dream of the Internet, we've confused an engineering system with a dream of the future. The Internet is an engineering system. It's based on feedback. And what it does very efficiently and brilliantly is it says "oh look, this person has done that and if they've done that then they'll probably like this because that's like all these other people who've done that and then done this". So, it's constantly reading the past and feeding stuff back to you, beautifully. And it's really really good at that.
Somewhere along the line another utopian ideology got into the Internet, that, it was also a place that you could be radical without power. And that you could have the true radicalism, that couldn't flourish under president Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, would rise up. And I think that's wrong because I think what happened is that they confused an engineering system with content. [...] But to do it [change the world] you got to have a picture of the future.
We don't have a picture of the future. We have a system we are dissatisfied with, we know it's somewhat odd, we know it's cracking in ways and it's sometimes quite fake, specially with our politicians. But we have no other picture of the future. That's the problem. And the engineering system of the Internet does not supply it. It's beautiful in other ways, it's great for organizing people, but we need a picture of the future somehow."
"[the internet] is an engineering system. Engineering systems seek stability, that's the whole idea. If you're an engineer you build a bridge, you don't want it to change, you don't want it to fall down, you want it to hold together, so all the stresses and strains balance each other out the same as skyscrapers. That's how engineering works. And the same is true of the Internet. What it's seeking all the time is to find out what you are like, find out who is like you and then find out what they want and then give you what they like so that everyone is happy. And it begins to segment you in all these little groups that are like you and then feed you the same stuff. And that's because it's an engineering system and it really likes doing it and it does it beautifully.
What it can't do... if you have a system that is constantly trying to manage the world by reading data from your behavior in the past, what it can't imagine is a kind of future it never existed before. Because it's always reinforcing "you" from what it knows "you" are. It's actually a cartoon model of "you". All of these systems online simplify "you" and then they feed you more of that. But the main thing is it cannot imagine another future. Because it always has to look into the past. And if you're trying to change the world, of course you look back into the past to try and learn from it, but what you also have to do is make a leap of faith into something new. And that's what the Internet, I think, as a beautiful information processing and distributed system, never does. And to do it we have to transcend it somehow. Use it, but transcend it."