Democracy and the Infowave

Each day, the financial press seems to have yet another report of companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook buying a competitor or broadening their reach into new technology areas by acquiring complementary technology enterprises.  Bit by bit (or byte by byte), there is an inexorable technological march that is putting American consumers – private, corporate, and government – at the mercy of these quasi-monopolies.  Our fascination with the internet and its myriad communication possibilities, efficiencies, and conveniences has made one-stop/one-click shopping much more than just an idle expression.

Yet what is the reality for our collective freedoms when the basic tools of communication and commerce are owned by relatively few corporations whose basic philosophies and concepts may, or may not, reflect the basic foundational principles of our country?  The corporate ability to decide what is to be allowed to flow over the digital domains is a short step from corporate governance by those who wish to impose a more limited or restricted definition of allowable content and expression.  Purveyors of commerce are at risk of losing access to the digital marketplace should they offend the controlling gateway.  Politicians and the public alike have seen the digital chaos made possible by errant keystrokes and remote arbiters of "fake news."

The dangers of monopoly ownership of vital telephone services were well recognized in 1974 by the United States Department of Justice and resulted in the mandated breakup of the Bell system in 1984 by the AT&T Corporation.

Is it not time to question these 21st-century digital entities before they become too big to fail or too big to challenge?  Or are we so mesmerized by the convenience and the novelty of minimal-effort societal interactions that digital soma is the new reality?

Charles G. Battig, M.S., M.D., Heartland Institute policy expert on environment; VA-Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment (VA-SEEE). His website is www.climateis.com.

Each day, the financial press seems to have yet another report of companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook buying a competitor or broadening their reach into new technology areas by acquiring complementary technology enterprises.  Bit by bit (or byte by byte), there is an inexorable technological march that is putting American consumers – private, corporate, and government – at the mercy of these quasi-monopolies.  Our fascination with the internet and its myriad communication possibilities, efficiencies, and conveniences has made one-stop/one-click shopping much more than just an idle expression.

Yet what is the reality for our collective freedoms when the basic tools of communication and commerce are owned by relatively few corporations whose basic philosophies and concepts may, or may not, reflect the basic foundational principles of our country?  The corporate ability to decide what is to be allowed to flow over the digital domains is a short step from corporate governance by those who wish to impose a more limited or restricted definition of allowable content and expression.  Purveyors of commerce are at risk of losing access to the digital marketplace should they offend the controlling gateway.  Politicians and the public alike have seen the digital chaos made possible by errant keystrokes and remote arbiters of "fake news."

The dangers of monopoly ownership of vital telephone services were well recognized in 1974 by the United States Department of Justice and resulted in the mandated breakup of the Bell system in 1984 by the AT&T Corporation.

Is it not time to question these 21st-century digital entities before they become too big to fail or too big to challenge?  Or are we so mesmerized by the convenience and the novelty of minimal-effort societal interactions that digital soma is the new reality?

Charles G. Battig, M.S., M.D., Heartland Institute policy expert on environment; VA-Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment (VA-SEEE). His website is www.climateis.com.