• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


The Homogenization of Culture?

A question about the Internet.

September 14, 2014

"You will have more than one profession,” the astrologer said to me, “at worst, you live a life of different interest, scattered; at best, and you will live a long life and find the connections.” That remembrance came to me as I read “The Naysayers” in the September 15, 2014 edition of The New Yorker, “Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the critique of pop culture.”

I studied with Marxists at the University of Rochester. While they, Eugene and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, abandoned Marxism in favor of far-right Republic Party and Opus Dei Catholicism, I, who had never joined the party but had a birthday cake (on May 1st) at their house one year with a hammer and sickle on it, kept reading, and reading, and reading the literature of Marxist and neo-Marxists of the 20th-century. Of course, then, when I read the table of contents to this New Yorker that appeared in my mail today, I went immediately to the article about the Marxist thinkers of pre-Nazi Germany Benjamin and Adorno.

For those without the prerequisites, Benjamin, who committed suicide on the Franco-Spanish border in 1940 – with papers to get him to New York in hand – and Adorno, who made it to the United States and continued to be of influence on the left intellectual side, were the standard-bearers, together with other leaders of the Frankfurt school, most notably including Max Horkheimer, of mid-20th-century European, Marxist, post- (1917) Soviet thought.  Hungrily, but studiously, I read through until I got to the predictable part about the Internet. “The Internet threatens final confirmation of Adorno and Horkeheimer’s dictum that the culture industry allows the ‘freedom to choose what is always the same.’”  The stars were beginning to align.

The author of the piece, Alex Ross, continues, “Above all, these figures present a model of thinking differently, and not in the glib sense touted by Steve Jobs. As the homogenization of culture proceeds apace, as the technology of surveillance hovers at the borders of our brains, such spaces are becoming rarer and more confined.”

I have something to say about this notion, but I shall reserve it for the introduction I have been asked to give at Cornell University at the screening of the documentary of Aaron Schwartz, “The Internet’s Own Boy” on October 1. For the time being, I am interested in hearing your views, Dear Reader. Do you think that the Internet has created the “homogenization of culture?”


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