The internet’s “either/or” complex

The internet, in its wild, macabre- and kitten-filled, twisted house of mirrors existence, is not as inclusive, or as some say “cozy“, as we believe it to be. At least that’s not how I see it nowadays. Relative to power, control and democracy, the internet has its own version of “have’s and have-not’s”: users are ping-pong’ed and bounced around from one site to the next, gated by ISPs, IPs, Google, Facebook, and other providers attempting to control and direct traffic within its slippery contours. To use a simpler analogy, the internet continues to exhibit symptoms of the “walled garden” problem – or what I call the “either/or complex“.

What is the “either/or complex“? It sounds fancy, but it’s something you’ve probably encountered if you frequent the internet often enough. Go ahead, picture yourself getting really excited about the Next Big Thing of the Internet. You arrive at its home page, only to be confronted by a smattering of messages, perhaps one or all of the ones below:

Sign up with your Facebook account!
Enter your first and last name.
Accept our revised Terms and Conditions.
Download the latest OS to use this app.

Don’t want to do that? Oh wait there buddy – you can’t go any further. The gates have closed – sorry! You are prohibited from using the Next Big Thing of the Internet. The alternative is… nothing. You have no other option. Those are the rules of the game.

There, now you’ve just experienced the “either/or” complex: either you’re in or or you’re out. Not surprisingly, this attitude is common practice in both old and new internet players, whether you’re a bank or a social network, and it’s changing our notions of participation and belonging.

This ideology plays on our perceptions of what constitutes socially acceptable, normal online behavior. Of course you must use your own name to sign up! You missed the Next Big Thing because you didn’t want to send over your credentials for a new iPhone app? How lame – I’m already gaining followers! Here in the West, where profile information data are freely given in return for delivered goods and services, this either/or binary is baked in – hell, that’s Facebook’s mission, “to make the world more open and connected” – but, why? This isn’t a zero-sum game, yet we’re being trained and coaxed into believing that it is, under the guise of choice, freedom and market capitalism (hey, if you don’t like how this company does business, go somewhere else!). I sometimes feel that this warped social contract has to do with our system of meritocracy. Sign up to play – at your own risk.*  If you do well, it’s because you worked hard, were really lucky, or are a social media guru. If you fail or get scammed, you should have known better, you idiot!

The web is complex, an ecosystem of flickering lights across an overlapping utility grid, yet the operators flip the ol’ on/off switch, effectively shutting off access for whole swaths of people (or should I say, non-consumers). News flash – unique visitors are people, metrics have eyes and ears behind them, and we cannot be discarded so flippantly. Data points aren’t incidental, they are real, flesh and blood, multicellular beings and we ought to have a say in how and why we participate. The internet is not a hammer, and we are not nails. This either/or complex needs to be shattered in order for us to not get swept up into a roiling system worthy of Orwellian proportions.

*Disclaimer: Next Big Website-App-Thing is not responsible for any loss of personal dignity or belongings while on this site, nor do we prevent trolls, spammers, marketers, ad resellers, 3rd party vendors, Catfishers or the like from mining your personal details for maximum gain. Your privacy is important to us, which is why you’re seeing this message, duh!

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