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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Peak Oil and Internet Culture

Let us begin with the obvious statement that web media has been the delivery vehicle for most people's information about hydrocarbon depletion. Inherent in this medium is a danger of confusing the "theory" of peak oil with the "culture" of peak oil.

The features of perceived anonymity, instantaneous feedback, and proximity to simulacra can cause one to question the legitimacy of peak oil theories. For many people, their only source of information about peak oil is the internet; their empirical conclusion may be that oil depletion exists exclusively on the internet.

The danger of message boards, chat rooms, email, and blogs, is that these tools will trivialize the content they are supposed to be disseminating. To be emerged in such media is to risk the feeling that peak oil is at best a source of entertainment, and at worst a psychosomatic illness.

Even the term "Peak Oil" gives the illusion of unity to a loose association of geological, economic, social, and political theories. Instead the dictionary, or more precisely the text, we must use to define this term exists in temporal web media. Can the models of peak oil be separated from authors who expound these theories? And can these authors ever exist separate from the audience who consumes and reacts to these models?

We know from a message board discussion the most common MBTI Type of participants is INTJ. We also know that people concerned with this issue tend to be better educated than average. If I were to venture a guess at the demographic make up of "peakers" I would expect to find the predominantly Caucasian males age 18-45. Then again, the same demographics applies to all internet users in general.

Internet entertainment caters to, mirrors, and in true postmodern fashion, ultimately parodies these young Caucasian males who have made the medium possible. Manifestation includes a preoccupation with sex and violence against a backdrop of self-aware irony. Perhaps the disproportionate attention given to topics such as war, catastrophe, and die-off are merely a reflection of peak oil morphing to fit its internet audience.

The internet is also a commercial medium. Audience attention has, in many cases, been commoditized in the form of pageviews, click-throughs, and page-ranks. Perhaps this fact has led to the promotion and exaggeration of peak oil theories in order to be more appealing to an internet audience.

The rarely-state goal of is not to entertain, educate, or provoke discourse, but ultimately to change people's behavior. As the scientific and political debate takes form around the issues of hydrocarbon depletion, a parallel universe of peak oil internet culture is also forming. It is in the interest of people involved in both worlds not to ignore the impact that this medium has on shaping the content of the debate.


Susan Bourland said...

I've noticed progressive blogs (of which agenda peak oil is part) attract a radical neo-conservative brand of comment-posting. The wrong-headed comments I received from my peak-oil post on support this observation. These people are so threatened by the idea of the gas running dry, they accuse anyone who talks about the bad news of being conspiracist, communist, and fear-mongering. I am beginning to realize a rightist top-heavy political climate on the net.

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