Digital Gulag

With the death of Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn on August 2nd, I thought it appropriate to discuss authors facing repression for the publication of their materials. The advent of the internet, cheap portable digital cameras, wireless web, and cell phones have made Solzhenitsyn’s memoir-style of writing seem quaint and outmoded. Now everyone is capable of being a reporter of man-made catastrophe. The problem now faced is that many governments, unused to having let slip the reins of the propaganda carriage, have responded with the cruel torment of the lash, to drive and corral digital citizens. Web service providers kow-tow to authoritarian regimes, handing over IP addresses and names. This phenomenon is not limited to China, where Hu Jia, Woeser, and Chen GuangCheng (who published his report on forced abortions on paper and digitally) have been jailed, beaten, and harassed. Even in countries where freedom of speech is supposedly guaranteed, such as Canada, we see this phenomenon cropping up. Once jailed, some bloggers find a shiv as the reward for reporting the cold hard truth. Others are beaten to death before they even reach the prison yard.

The internet has opened up previously impossible freedoms in mass communications. But it is also a powerful tool of repression, a propaganda machine and an addictive new opiate of the masses. If they so choose, people can get lost in a whirlwind of information from their RSS and spend hours learning, connecting, and investigating. They can also invest their time in writing pornographic fan-fiction about Yoshi from Super Mario. The internet is a virtual manifestation of our minds and how much easier is it to get caged in our own thoughts, now that they can be presented using Flash and Ajax code. Don’t let yourself become an LCD/High Def Ivan Denisovich. This article may ruffle a few feathers, it may be monitored, or it might be a giant piece of Fluff. Whatever the case, rise up downtrodden digital peoples, cast of the shackles of the net, watch an eclipse or meteor shower, climb a mountain and revel in your harmony with nature rather than basking in the radiating glow of pixels.