Prophetic words? – By Rajpal Abeynayake

Prophetic words? – By Rajpal Abeynayake

Should war be possible in the internet age? It’s a question that would have been asked in the 90s when internet was a nascent phenomenon.

The science fiction take just before that was that someday soon there would be worldwide connectivity, and this would mean people would first-hand be able to see the devastation of war.

Not just that, they would be able to see the aspects of war that for one reason or another get hidden by mainstream media. Nobody would be able to conceal anything, it was theorised. Worldwide connectivity would see to that.

“If all human beings are united by the internet and social networks, wars can be considered much more difficult as there will be plenty of information among the citizens …..” wrote Roberto Minadeo, PhD, Brazilian writer and analyst.

Today, when the global presence of the worldwide web is such that internet is everywhere and is accessible virtually to everyone, we can look around and see that war has trumped the power of connectivity. There is internet everywhere, but there is war everywhere too.

The Israeli-Hamas conflict has been particularly concerning, with ‘concerning’ perhaps being the understatement of the year. Every aspect of the war is being reported. Every aspect of protests and counter-protests are known. If the mainstream media takes a break from reporting the conflict, nobody would probably feel it.

The worldwide web contains all the feeds, the debates about the war, the close ups, the up-close confabs, you name it. If you want you could, in a manner of speaking make the war happen in your living room while not having to spill an ounce of blood. On the contrary, you could enjoy war-porn, if that’s your kind of thrill, with popcorn and your favourite fizzy drink and a beer at hand. (It is horrendous people can do that, and the above sentence is not meant to offend all those who suffer from war, or are sick from seeing the visuals.)


For any of this, you don’t necessarily need satellite TV or any type of television at all. The internet will bombard you with the details, and if you were the type concerned with the footnotes, you could have them.

But more importantly the internet is supposed to be able to take you to places that conventional TV never dares to go. It would connect you with resource persons and experts on the war that you never knew existed.

The theory before the internet age was that such information would avert war, because humanity would be well informed, the world’s collective conscience would be pricked, and the reasons for war would disappear as a result.

It hasn’t happened. Amarthya Sen won a Nobel Peace Prize for his theory articulated in an academic paper and a book in which he said that famine could have been avoided in India during World War II, had there been more information. Sen said there was a lack of democracy in India under British rule, and more democracy and therefore a better free flow of information would have averted the conditions of famine.

If that was held to be true for famine it should be held to be true for war as well. Internet is supposed to be free speech, more information, and an uplifting reflection of human empowerment at its zenith.

But in Gaza and in Israel they haven’t heard of the internet, and neither have they heard of it in Ukraine and Russia, it seems. So much for democracy and the free flow of information via the worldwide web then?

It’s tempting to be cynical, but even so it would be rash to dismiss the power of the internet just like that. To be charitable, probably the theory was right that there would be no wars with worldwide connectivity via the web. But, somehow the theory collapsed in a heap in the practical world. There seems to be more war now in some ways than in the pre-internet age.

People have more information on the net on war and the carnage that results, but it’s also distorted, and sometimes the reality is indistinguishable from the hyperbole.

But yet, the internet was supposed to cut through all the disinformation and deliver the facts to those who needed it. The visuals are there, they travel easily via a myriad loops electronically, and they pack a punch.

But yet, war persists not because of the internet or its inherent flaws but as a result of human failure. The internet may expose war and the folly that results, and the inhumanity of it all, from whichever side of the divide you are making an assessment.

But there is nobody in a powerful position it seems, who is moved enough to be able to stop these wars nevertheless. The internet may show the details of war in microscopic terms almost, but people are still thick to all the exposes and the penetrative coverage. It’s what those who prophesied the Internet will make war disappear didn’t bargain for.

Amarthya Sen was probably right. More information should definitely stop famine and similar destruction through war for instance. But there is a massive difference between should, and how it all turns out in reality in the end.


It can be argued that the internet is not a democratised space. But there is enough free speech to ensure that the basic contours of democracy are left intact on the worldwide web. Yes, sometimes the powerful have a propaganda advantage and can dominate certain platforms that act as democratising forums ostensibly in cyberspace.

But who can say there is a dearth of information? There is enough to vindicate those who stated in the pre-internet age that worldwide connectivity would stop wars.

But wars continue because name and shame or other tactics don’t work when it comes to wars. People can be exposed by visuals, but they couldn’t care less. There is impunity for a lot of the actors and this writer is not focusing on who these actors may be, because there are other writers to do that job and who do it extremely well.

Humanity’s failings in the end cannot be blamed on technology. The internet has expanded, but minds have not. Minds seem on the contrary to have shrunk, and that’s the potential glitch in the matrix that those who predicted the future in the pre-internet age, missed colossally.

They missed the ability to see that in the midst of positive and enabling technology, the worst instincts of humanity may trump, using that same technology which was supposed to emancipate human-kind.

Humans are not empathetic creatures, and most definitely not when they are seeing moving pictures. So worldwide connectivity has become something of a diversion where people go to watch a bit of war in real time, or maybe what’s called war-porn.

Though what they see is real, it doesn’t seem to be real to them because on YouTube and dozen other platforms, along with war, they also watch the day’s sports, and maybe visit the betting sites too, on their way out.

Those who rule and make decisions follow the same routine, most likely. They may confer on the internet with those who suffer in the middle of the theatre of war one moment, but in the next, they can switch off the Zoom-feed and go and watch some cat videos, or Taylor Swift.

Mass connectivity alas then is mass desensitisation also. Those who said the internet would stop all wars didn’t bargain for the fact that technology can do nothing about human folly.

When things don’t work the way they expected, people blame the technology. They say it’s the nature of the tech that has allowed high-tech firms to build monopolies and concentrate their power.

But it’s not the way the technology is ordered but how human interactions are organised that’s the problem. There is no respect. Details, information, the truth, frame by frame replays of the truth, well none of this matters to most people, and most powerful people in particular.

If it’s somebody else that suffers they don’t mind seeing it on the internet feed, because that’s what everyone is seeing anyway, and Amarthya Sen may have been right about a lack of information, but he would have not bargained for the information overload. The internet has not stopped wars, and certainly pigs haven’t learnt to fly. Humans should reform themselves, before beginning to say the next big thing, AI for instance, would stop all human suffering.

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