Zach Blas & His Fight Against The Internet

It almost goes without saying that any brand wanting to stay relevant needs to keep keenly aware of developments in how consumers are interacting with the Internet.

Lena Dunham is no longer on Twitter, a timely reminder that Generations Y & Z are fleeing social media sites at unprecedented rates and that the digital landscape is changing. They may have learned a lesson from Zach Blas, who was only too happy to explain how to retaliate against the Internet in his talk at Brighton’s Long Progress Bar.

The issue with the Internet:

The Internet is not an open platform in many countries (North Korea and China most obviously), and even in the UK and the US, the Internet has become “an extension of an extremist surveillance state”. Blas contends that the Internet is at present “an extension of governance”.

The contemporary definition of the Internet has come to stand for more than its technical description. Instead, it’s idealised as a totality and an omnipresent sociocultural situation and structure.

The “contemporary theoretical postal malaise” signals our inability to think the historical present. That is to say, we are adept at saying that we have grown past or beyond a particular concept, but unable to adequately describe the state in which we now live. What is the ‘post-modern’ except just what comes after the modern?

To understand our state as ‘postinternet’ is to remain within the structure of the Internet rather than some alternative system. Our ‘Internetocentrism’ shows an inability to see outside the bounds of the Internet seen as all-consuming.

How to fight back:

We need to play with the idea of the Internet to create change. We need to embrace ‘contrainternet’ practices that subvert the idea of the Internet as omniscient.

The first method Blas presented, ‘utopian plagiarism’, was a William Burroughs-indebted attempt to provide an alternative history of the Web by creating chimerical texts from canonical theory and replacing given words (‘capitalism’) with replacements (‘Internet’) to highlight that the Internet is simply a human social construct, not an unstoppable external force.

Option two, that chosen by Ms Dunham, was social media exodus – “the withdrawal from neoliberalisation of networked modality” – or, more simply, removing oneself from social networks that treat users as mere data.

The most politically exciting option available in the fight against the Internet as it currently stands is use of mesh networks, such as in Hong Kong in 2014, where protesters communicated using Bluetooth-connected chat methods rather than relying on the Internet or cellular signal to organise and dissent against an oppressive governmental regime. Similar situations arose during the Occupy movement in New York and amongst Iraqi citizens during the second Gulf War. Evidently the Internet is not the total sum of communication.

What does this mean for brands?

Blas’ talk gave explicit voice to a running theme in today’s culture; that people are increasingly skeptical regarding the pervasive presence of the Internet and the erosion of their privacy, and are increasingly cynical regarding how their data is being used.

Coupled with general trends toward minimal living, embracing mindfulness and personal connection, and sharper focus on societal issues such as sustainability, these attitudes signal a move away from total immersion in the ephemeral Net toward a broader reappreciation of the solid, corporeal, and ‘honest’.

Given this, token digital engagement such as social media interaction is unlikely to appeal to millennials or Gen Z, and these consumers will be looking to brands to differentiate themselves through sensory engagement, direct personal communication, and clear, demonstrated ethics.