Volume 47, Issue 3: May/June 2013

Digital Disconnect How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy

  • Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy

    Robert W. McChesney

    New Press, 2013

Robert McChesney, a communications theorist at Illinois, has written previously on the consolidation of American news media, and (more recently, with John Bellamy Foster) the mechanics of global capitalism. Here he takes to task internet “celebrants”: those uncritically cheerleading tech-led economic growth in all its forms; those engaged in a myopic game which identifies online spontaneity as the preeminent vehicle for democracy promotion. Internet “skeptics” are chided for their own sort of intellectual fogginess: earlier and more nebulous concerns have begun to coalesce around issues of privacy, censorship and media concentration, but lack strategic purchase and remain ill-defined and rudderless.

If this feels like petty caricature, it is — but perseverance reveals a worthy thesis. McChesney perceives an ideological deficit on both sides of the divide. To hear him tell it, “political economy should be the organizing principle for evaluating the digital revolution.” Those poison seeds of the blighted “traditional” media landscape are sown by the ubiquity of digital copy, to be sure. But this observation often seems strangely divorced from wider corporate and political contexts. Digital Disconnect seeks to strip away this benign patina by challenging the notion that the internet is fundamentally apolitical.