Time Magazine has elected the Internet user as the 'personality of the year 2006'. There's a bit of irony here, because 'the Internet user' doesn't exist as a personality, and the websites that are heralded as examples of the 'Internet democracy' should rather be defined as 'distributed personalities', shared and created by a multitude of users who do not necessarily share psychological traits, ideological convictions, political goals, personal ambitions or what have you. In that sense, however, this election is not without importance, since it points towards a major paradigmatic shift in our notion of personality and individuality. The 'I' was the individual subject of the liberal and neo-liberal eara, but 'You', always already defined relative to someone else, will be the 'dividual' subject of a truely 'postmodern' epoch of the 'network society'. Even mainstream media can no longer deny this.
The other irony is, of course, that Time detects the democratic potential of Web 2.0, 'social software', p2p networks, etc, at the very moment that these have also been discovered by corporations like Google and other media giants. As is well known Google furthers democratization of information and knowledge only as far as it furthers its own commercial interests. This company wants to make all information accessible except its own codes and algorithms, and is prepared to keep loads of 'free information' stored away behind a 'Chinese Wall' for millions, if not billions of people. Youtube is expected to face law suits on copyright issues, and is, given the huge amount of money Google was prepared to invest in it, bound to be commercialized in no time. In that sense history seems to repeat itself: after the 'activist' optimism about the future of cyberspace, virtual communities, democratization and freedom of information in the eighties and nineties, the dot.com crash soon elucidated the bounaries of these utopian prospects. It is more than ironic that these old illusions are now being re-animated by the 'old media'.