A deeper simulation fever (at the Berliner Gespräche)

Last Wednesday I was at a gathering by the Institue for Internet and Society here in Berlin in collaboration with Deutschlandfunk called “Berliner Gespräche” about how the internet influences society.

The internet is serious

What struck me mainly was that both a professor from the panel and a commenter from the audience held the position that the internet is in fact nothing new. That it is just another medium/channel for people to communicate through. Citing Clay Shirky, I would say that more and faster information flows are in fact different. More fundamentally the internet is the manifestation of a vast new kind of object that interacts with other objects (such as us) in a myriad ways. That alone makes it something new and very significant.

I was asked by somebody from Deutschlandfunk to comment on the proceedings of the evening and I gave them my superficial outsider’s view about privacy and journalism and how the status quo of both is vastly different in the Netherlands.

On the way home what stuck with me most is that every online entity comprises within itself a subjective view of how reality works and how it wishes to interact with that reality. Facebook has notions about the desirability of privacy that permeate through all of its interactions with its users. This is the same for any websites. They are simulations that run on a subjectively chosen subset of reality just like games do.

The tool that we often employ when talking about games is Ian Bogost’s concept of ‘simulation fever’ that says that subjective simulations cause people to either accept or reject the simulation based on their position. The critical alternation (or altercation if you will) between acceptance and rejection puts the user in a moral frenzy termed simulation fever.

The subjective values that websites impose most clearly on users right now are their views when it comes to privacy but there are a slew of other values that are inherent in any web application which users may or may not accept when using them. If you must generalize1 —as a populace— the Dutch mostly accept those subjective realities while the Germans mostly reject.

The Dutch use sites as means of communication and self-expression while grosso modo ignoring the consequences of corporate ownership. While Germans forced by social pressures to use sites such as Facebook, try to mitigate their complicitness by employing sabotage and other defensives strategies2.

There is in both countries a minority of people who are aware of the issues and use these services critically. For any meaningful discussion about the internet, they the most likely people to turn to.

  1. Which I unfortunately must while I recount my experiences as as newcomer in Berlin.
  2. Using fake names, logging themselves out.

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