Looking at the present state of the Internet (and primarily the World Wide Web as its popular façade), one cannot stop wondering why so powerful means of communication, that could accumulate knowledge for the benefit of the humanity as a whole, and of every individual, why is it so wastefully used for annoying advertising, primitive chat, or silly entertainment? Why is it so difficult to find a free piece of responsible information on a particular topic, so that one needs to sort out tons of junk to discover a couple of sites of interest?
The typical answer is that people are free to develop the Internet as they like, and if they want all that junk up there, they'll just put it there; this is the triumph of democracy and the expression of their free will. The demand determines the offer, and if something sells well, it is bound to be produced. The market economy, it's basic.
But are people as free on the Web as they are declared to be? Are the consumers as stupid as the apologists of capitalism picture them?
If I hate any noise and want to find a place to carry a calm and peaceful life, can I get it? I want no advertising, no buy-and-sell, no lie, no gossip, no disclosure of anybody's private life, no perversions, no violence, no barriers, no visas, no politics... Can I have that kind of freedom? All I want is to never worry about gaining my life, concentrating instead on unfolding my creativity and contributing to the development of the humanity; can I do that? I want free access to all the achievements of culture, with no artificial barriers in the form of intellectual or other property rights; what about so much freedom?
No, I cannot get what I want. The laws of capitalism will never allow it to me. On the contrary, they are going to make me consume what I don't need, and live in the ugly world shaped by the rich for the rich. My thoughts are to be put under control, and I will have to be concerned about survival here and now, with no room for the dreams of the future. The capital needs slaves, and slaves are not supposed to think much. Consequently, the slaves should be deprived of access to any important information, and ideally of the very ability to seek for it.
Luckily, besides the laws of the market, there are other economic laws, and among them, the law of the progressive development of the productive forces that demands that the education of the workers correspond to the technologies they use. People must know at least something to maintain the well-being of those at power.
Though the capitalists cannot prohibit any knowledge at all, they do all they can to restrict the access to information, to tame knowledge and present it in a sterilized form. The principal technique is to split knowledge into small isolated pieces, keeping them well apart and thus preventing the chain reaction in mass education. Here are a few typical tricks.
Confidentiality. Just classify some piece of information and protect it with a formal ban and strict encoding; it does not matter, whether it comes under the guise of the interests of national security or private business secrets.
Proprietary data. The author has the right to restrict the usage of the product—this is one of the biggest lies of the bourgeois propaganda. Nobody may have any exclusive right for anything, since any product is a result of a common effort, and hence it belongs to the society as a whole, rather than a single person or a narrow group. Making knowledge a property is absurd; the only purpose of author right protection is to hide knowledge from those who really need it.
Dilution in noise. If useful information occupies only a small portion of the Web (say, less than 0.01%), there is little chance that it will be frequently found. So, it is sufficient to create many junk sites and promote them on the wide scale, to make any query return mainly the links to junk, thus burying any useful content in that dirty flood.
Manipulating attention. The public can easily be manipulated to get interested in what is of no real importance, forgetting about the fundamental problems of today. Social pressure makes people go in for sports, all sorts of entertainment, mystical tales etc. Numerous sites devoted to such topics intercept the visitors leaving them no time for fruitful discoveries.
Mass propaganda. Online news, analytical articles, or well moderated discussion clubs serve as the instruments of implanting the official views and suppressing the opposition. There are numerous "scientific" or "philosophical" sites that promote the ideology of the ruling classes, and many sites devoted to the arts are also designed so as to prevent any queer idea to break through.
Visibility restrictions. Though some companies admit free hosting of personal sites, this opportunity is often very restrictive. Free sites are generally limited in size; they usually have format and upload restrictions, traffic limitations, etc. From time to time, the rules change in the direction of more limitations, so that formerly free services would require regular payment to go on. Those who cannot pay are bound to move their files to another domain, thus resetting their visibility to zero.
Mutability. The Internet is never stable in neither part. Everything changes, and no URL can always point to the same portion of information. Hosting services and domain names are sold for a very limited time, they have to be regularly prolonged; that is, you cannot construct a perfect site and happily die with the confidence of its permanent presence on the Web, even if you can pay. In other words, no stable sub-Web can be constructed, to eliminate noise in that particular virtual space. This helps the ruling classes to keep high the level of ignorance and destroy any Internet communities that might be dangerous.
The efficiency of these mechanisms is significantly enhanced by their ability to work on the unconscious level, in the background, with homeostatic reproduction. A person educated in a specific environment will most probably act according to the standards of that environment, without being aware of the social programming involved.
Still, the objective laws of economic development demand more online collaboration; this favors the introduction of new procedures and tools to overcome the chaotic structure of the Internet and provide more data accessibility. Probably, some day, in some other socioeconomic conditions, the Internet will become what it should be, a mechanism of knowledge integration and propagation, preserving the positive content and suppressing commercial noise. That free Web would accumulate ideas and give people convenient tools to grasp them and producing new knowledge respecting the past.