Hypertext Bodies

Fears that "our" culture will slide down the Internet sewer are countered in equal measure of hyperbole by those who see a more positive future, one that will see the Intenet rejuvenate the "body" citizen. For Newt Gingrich and his intellectual double George Gilder (a dubious honor at best), technology will be the key to restoring the place of the individual body. As Gilder explains, the information highway is a threat to "hierarchies, monopolies, industrial bureaucracies, and other top-down systems of all kinds. Just as intelligence and control are moving from gigantic mainframes to personal computers, from centralized databases to desktop libraries, from the central Bell pyramid to a new array of communications tools, and from a few national broadcast networks to millions of programmers around the globe so is economic power shifting from mass institutions to individuals." What is most startling in Gingrich and Gilder's visions of the future is not the anti-corporate thrust (a common theme of progressive conservatives), but the historical homology made between the development of technology (the movement from giant industrial factories to desktop computers) and development of humans (the movement from commercial mass culture to the individual citizen).

In this "imagined community" of like-minded citizens, the seeming contradiction between the belief that individuals are free to do as they please and the belief that all individuals adhere to a single national ideology is transmuted by the belief that all proper, "rational," citizens have the same desires; thus the individual and the nation figured as a "unitary subject" can be placed in opposition to those groups ("foreign" countries, criminals, crackers, corporations, pedophiles, pornographers) that threaten "normal" desires. Paralleling Gingrich, Howard Rheingold argues that CMC (computer mediated communication) can save the nation because citizens can use technology to cleanse the public sphere "that commercial mass media, led by broadcast television, have polluted with barrages of flashy, phony, often violent imagery, a public sphere that once included a large component of reading, writing, and rational discourse." Rheingold believes Americans can return to this idealized public sphere (imagined by Rheingold following Habermas to have existed before the industrial revolution and the rise of mass culture), a public sphere that will rejuvenate democracy, safeguard individual rights, and heal "America's loss of a sense of social commons" (13).