The term Internetism could be coined to describe the increasingly difficult distinction between the unwired world and the wired. The dichotomy, between the given and the new, has been just as problematic as that between the Occident and the Orient. And the parallels with Said's Orientalism go further still.
The internet began as a military project until the commercial interests fuelled its growth into something new. From the Orientalists' point of view this was true of the Orient too. But the hot media retain their claim to orthodoxy and they report the online world as an exotic place rendered visible to news stories only where its inhabitants fall foul of the "classroom, the criminal court, the prison," according to the rules given in the section on "professionalism and objectivity" above.
As with Orientalism the self-proving hypotheses tend to validate themselves because under the temporal rule given above the hot media have difficulty reporting slow changes that do not reveal themselves as boundary events occurring between the two most recent printing deadlines. Hot media predominantly report 'developments', supplying only enough 'background' information to make the foreground event intelligible at a mundane level. News stories about online paedophile rings, or the Heaven's Gate mass suicide continue to sustain the traditional agenda of the hot media from the fertile hinterland of cyberspace.
The apparent dichotomy of the hot media against the internet led to clichéd assumptions so that to talk about browsing the WWW will often elicit the same suspicious response as would a proposed visit to Bangkok. However there is much more in Bangkok and in the internet than an unregulated sex industry. Of course the internet does have its equivalent of the Bangkok's Patpong district and in either case what the visitor finds (in the internet or the Orient) is massive, appalling, but is less a representation of that environment rendered somehow independently of the regarding self.
"Woven through all of Flaubert's Oriental experiences, exciting or disappointing, is an almost uniform association between the Orient and sex. In making this association Flaubert was neither the first nor the most exaggerated instance of a remarkably persistent motif in Western attitudes to the Orient."123
As figures without ground, those teeming millions of McLuhan's "Electric Men" who, when innocent of cybercrime or other transgressions, defy definition by the hot media and through social and economic activity are transforming the hot media's world into something closer to McLuhan's global village.
Meanwhile broadcast media and newspapers establish hybrid web presences in a form akin to the chinoiserie at the Brighton Pavilion, built when it was fashionable to cast iron banister railings to resemble bamboo. In this way the hot media continue to present the world in the familiar old way while actually sourcing more and more stories in cyberspace.
The tribal will is consensually expressed through the simultaneous interplay of all members of a community that is deeply interrelated and involved, and would thus consider the casting of a 'private' ballot in a shrouded polling booth a ludicrous anachronism.124
But this is nothing more than a development of the electric media that McLuhan saw emerging from the invention of the telegraph in 1844. "Western man is himself being de-Westernized by his own new speed-up, as much as the Africans are being detribalized by our old print and industrial technology."125
Making the same mistake as Napoleon, Bill Gates attempted to ring-fence his own part of the internet by convincing MSN customers that "nous sommes le vrai internet." But as McLuhan predicted, the message is in the medium itself rather than the content.
Very slowly and very expensively the big companies are learning that the web is never going to be a medium of entertainment. 'Content,' meaning the stuff between the advertisements, must be either useful or very fashionable indeed if it is to turn a profit. America Online celebrated its purchase of CompuServe by sacking one third of the staff, mostly those involved in 'content' creation. Microsoft has just sacked most of its 'content' providers which were meant to turn their network (MSN) into a permanent television show. Andrew Brown, 'The Net Position', Prospect, April 1998.
On the eve of his visit to Thailand on 17 March 1998, Gates sent a message to the Bangkok Post urging telecommunications deregulation so that the internet can provide unlimited opportunities for content providers.126