chapter  14
16 Pages

Virtual culture: knowledge, identity and choice

ByFRANK WEBSTER

One hundred and fifty years since they were written, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ words are more resonant today than even on first publication of The Communist Manifesto: ‘All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions’, pronounced the pair, ‘are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air’ (Marx and Engels 1948, in McLellan 1997: 224). A good many commentators would probably have denied this claim back in the 1850s, since even while Empire was expanding and trade growing apace, there were few willing to claim that, for example, the relations between the sexes were not pretty well fixed, or that Great Britain might soon lose its newly established colonies in Africa and India.But nowadays itissimply conventional to acknowledge that everything is changing, that what it is changing into is itself set to change, and that all this is happening at an accelerating rate. All that was once assured, all previous certainties, all axial principles now seem challengeable and indeed are challenged.It is now quite orthodox to observethis sortof thing,and such observations are as likely to come from right wing circles as from those on the left. A heady cocktail of technologicaldevelopment, globalizing tendencies,the breathlesspaceof industrial innovation and economic adaptation, round the clock exposure to multimedia images, political turmoil, the commonplace experience of international travel, scientific explorations into the recesses of the human mind and to the far corners of the earth . . . , such a brew readily convinces that, indeed, everything is set on change.