Log in ....Tribune

Dot.ComLatest in ITFree DownloadsOn hardware

Monday, September 17, 2001
IT Bookshelf

Has capitalism ‘hijacked’ the Internet?
Review by
Peeyush Agnihotri

Capitalism and the Information Age
Edited by Robert W. McChesney, Ellen Meiksins Wood and John Bellamy Foster, Cornerstone Publications, India, and Monthly Review Press, New York. Pages 250, Rs 150.

NEW technologies are constantly transmitting information to millions of sites worldwide. This brave new reality is reshaping the labour force and market relations and seems to be altering the course of history.

This book is a compilation of 14 chapters written by various experts on how communications revolution is shaping up the political economy and altering history. "Of all the instruments of social control that capitalism has at its disposal, communication has steadily increased its usefulness — and indispensability — to the system," Hebert. I. Schiller from University of California says.

Heather Menzies, writer of one of the chapters, feels that capitalism’s structures are being digitised; dematerialised from file folders into electronic bits in global communication networks. He feels that the idiom ‘All that is solid melts into air’ has never rung so true. In short, it’s business as usual with a vengeance. Beneath the rhetoric of the information society and cowboy frontierism of Internet enthusiasts, the ideology of monopoly capitalism is being consolidated and hegemonised in various forms.


Michael Dawson and John Bellamy Foster who have delved in detail on what virtual capitalism is say that a new electronic republic is displacing organised capitalism. The arrival of new communication and information technologies has offered the promise of more egalitarian, participatory and progressive structures. Yet in practice, the reality has been of their rapid incorporation into familiar structures of inequality and commercial exploitation.

What some of the chapters have to say about the Net penetration is revealing. In 1994 not even one of the ‘less developed countries’ had a computer network directly connected to the Internet. Packet switched data network existed only in five LDCs. The Internet Society estimates that in 1994 there were just 0.002 Internet users per 1,000 inhabitants in India as compared to 48.9 in Sweden.

In a write-up on to the evolution of telecommunications Nicholas Baran, one of the writers, thinks that the Internet is being transformed into an electronic shopping mall and sales catalogue rather than being what it was originally meant to be. He fears that it would only a matter of time before many of the Internet’s useful attributes disappear in the wake of commercialisation.

Andy Pollack sums up the essence of the book in a chapter on IT and socialist self-management. "While IT is touted as leading to a leaner and more productive capitalism, it is in long run leading to a system every bit as wasteful as the pre-computer version," he says. How true.