Not everyone who is online is also wired. The latter refers to those capable to finding a date or a job through social networks such as LinkedIn, downloading the latest episodes of True Blood, or purchasing self-designed Nike shoes; the former avoid these services. Using the internet just for an email account and cheap airline tickets does not make you technologically incompetent, but rather concerned for your existential distinctiveness, that is, autonomy. But has your existence started to belong to others? For the wired West the danger of the internet does not lie in going crazy from too many hours spent online, although this is becoming more common, but rather in considering a wired existence transparent, free, and vital for your life rather than an active threat. Although being wired assures you an identity on the web, that is, a position in the new wired world, it also frames your existence within the possibilities and limitations of the web. This is why Tim Berners Lee, a founder of the web, recently pointed out how the “more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social networking site becomes a central platform—a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it”.
An autonomous life in the twenty-first century will depend on the distances we manage to maintain from the politics of control. This politics was employed by the Soviet Union and is used in contemporary North Korea. These two regimes use technology to manufacture and control the existence of their citizens in order to impose certain beliefs and restrict others. Today, the West seems to be under a similar regime without a central government; that is, it is imposed by technology. Whether they offer exciting social existence on the web or release private data to governments, our existence is in the hands of programmers such as Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey; after all, wars are now beginning to be fought also through the web with catastrophic consequences. If being wired seems the only possibility for existence today it’s because only those who have an IP address or Facebook account are recognisable; in other words, only the wired have identities. But the existential issue of wired does not inhere in the fact of being monitored, which is inevitable even offline today, but rather in the existential unfairness of our interactions on the web.
We sacrifice not only the personal information we submit when we join a network or make a purchase but also part of our being, that is, our autonomy. In this relation our existence is involved as a consequence rather than an option. Having said this, the difference between online and wired users of the web does not have to do with their level of education or social status but rather with each group’s interest in being an autonomous interpreter free from technological constraints. The ability of an information consumer to read “between the lines” has been indispensable since the first generation to read newspapers in the sixtheenth century. Today, though, the web requires an even greater effort considering the amount of information and the possibility of interaction at our disposal. The better our ability to interpret autonomously, the better our chances to live a distinct life, but who is capable of overcoming the web’s existential consequences? The online moderate or the wired enthusiast?
While there is no quick answer to this question, the existential issues it raises are becoming as crucial as they were at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Like the worker in Chaplin’s Modern Times, who ends entangled in the machinery that has conditioned his existence, we must avoid seeing our preferences, interests, and views only in the banner advertisements constantly waved in our eyes.