These revised forms of Habermasian conceptions remain distinctively influential in northern Europe and Scandinavia, as part of a larger preference here for more deontological ethics. Again, culture makes a difference – in terms both of ethics and of our conceptions of technologically mediated democracy. At the other end of the spectrum, for example, many of the values and ideological commitments surrounding both computing technologies and then the internet were shaped (again) by a distinctive US vision of “techno-liberation.” To be sure, the notion that modern technologies are key to various forms of liberation and democracy is rooted in the European Enlightenment – both broadly in its embrace of a Cartesian vision of science and technology helping to free us from labor (if not death) and, more specifically, in what Mark Coeckelbergh calls the “material romanticism” of Marx and Engels in The German Ideology: these authors observe that “slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine”. These notions unfolded in the US communitarian counterculture of the 1960s, but, as Lincoln Dahlberg observes, “techno-liberation” understandings of such computer- mediated liberation became increasingly individualized – emphasizing first of all “virtual communities, places where individual minds met, free (supposedly) from many of the physical, normative, and legal
constraints of offline embodied life”. Dahlberg argues that the presumption of disembodied minds, thereby physically isolated from one another, thus leads to “individualism and a more individualist conceptualization of freedom” (ibid.). US history and romantic recreations of the American West specifically play in here: “Computer networking was referred to in ‘pioneering’ and ‘homesteading’ metaphors, invoking the adventurous exploration and settlement of a newly found, untamed, and thus unregulated space by free and self-regulating individuals.
From here, “cyberspace” becomes increasingly conceived of as the space and engine of a “cyberlibertarianism” that emphasizes individual freedom from the larger community. The strong resistance against governmental regulation, taxation, and so forth that characterizes the US-based tech giants is not simply an artifact of business interests in minimizing costs and maximizing returns to shareholders: it is more centrally a culturally rooted ideology that continues to pervade Silicon Valley in its many manifestations.