When the internet is asserted as a religious entity, there are political consequences


In his article “Data Transgression”, Mike Bulajewski begins with the claim that the internet can be, and in fact is, regarded as a type of religious entity in our society. This first appears as an idea that is perhaps absurd, or at least incoherent with the history of religions and religious thought as it is known up until relatively recent “online” historical times. The argument that religions are expressed or “happen” on the medium of the internet is acceptable enough, but how exactly can the internet be legitimated as an entity or institution unto itself? Bulajewski suggests that this is because as a platform, the internet gestures towards an encompassing planetary consciousness, which is constituted by the true form of “Otherness” that religion grasps at. This admittedly vague notion of “web divinity” is grounded in some interesting examples provided by Bulajewski. Firstly he examines the discourse with which the internet is commonly reified as a singular, invisible agency. Colloquial use of language such as “this is why I love the internet” is as commonplace as it is unusual when the lack of precedent for such a statement before the advent of networked computers is considered. In fact, such language does seem to often evoke a “sacral sentiment” as discussed in our class as a criteria of religion. As a living example, Bulajewski offers the faith of Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of the technology magazine Wired, which is a self-professed hybrid faith in Christianity and technology with an implicit recognition of the spiritual implications of technological progress.

On the strength of these examples, if Bulajewski’s assertion is to be entertained, the question then arises of what role the political sphere would play in a paradigm of ‘web divinity’. This connection is also addressed in the form of a review of the reactionary measures by some online communities to encroachments on online data freedom purposed by the U.S. Government, specifically in the form of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation introduced into U.S. House of Representatives on October 11, 2011. The aim of the legislation was to bolster the methods and scope of online enforcement of copyright law through data restrictions. Such a change would be for the purported benefit of all holders of intellectual property, but tellingly the bill was backed by lobbyists from the Motion Picture Association of America, pharmaceutical and media businesses, and the United States Chamber of Commerce. Bulajewski points towards the invoked agency on behalf of the internet which resulted from opposition of the bill. Some of the phrases and slogans used, such as “information wants to be free”, are not overtly religious, but at least suggest connotations of “web divinity” such as a will as well as politically defensible rights that go beyond the intrinsic merits of an inert information platform. If Bulajewski is correct, we are allowed to imagine that we may be in the myth-making stages of the internet as an unprecedented religious entity, and as can be expected, those with political and economic power are vying for its authorship.


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