One of the most striking rhetorical features associated with information technology has been the tension-- most evident in various MUDs and MOOS, certainly, but also in Usenet groups and assorted other discussion sites--between an ideal of community and a radical individualism based upon a refusal to accept any kind of constraint or rules of behaviour (although this is admittedly complicated by the nebulous idea of Netiquette).
The world of infotech, particularly the Internet, is characterized by the belief of many users that it is a "free zone" somehow set apart from the Real World. And certainly the Internet has introduced significant new modalities of experience to which we need to attend, and which do raise the possibility of creating different kinds of community and even individuality.
At the same time the macho Social Darwinism coupled with the frontier mythology of hardy individualism and self-sufficiency that characterizes so much of the virtual world is all too familiar from the material one. The muscularity of Net discourse in the US is a complex response to perceived weakness of US culture. The litany of social and economic evils supposedly besetting the US is familiar - the (often overstated) perception that crime is out of control, the (often understated) level of violence in US culture, welfare dependency, racial hatred, the widespread acceptance amongst economic theorists of "structural" unemployment, and an economic "recovery" that is nevertheless another installment in a twenty-year decline in real individual spending power.
In contrast with this society the Internet is considered by many users to be a place of equality, individual responsibility, strength and peace (albeit the virtual equivalent of the kind of homicidal peace in which the US has come to specialize). The survival of the fittest stance is thus based on the widespread perception that the US has turned into a society of victims, where everyone expects to be financially and spiritually compensated for the everyday disasters that befall.
What the survivalist discourse of the Net obscures however is that the Net's solution - an insistence upon complete individual responsibility - is not opposed to the material world but is in fact drawn directly from it. The position of survival of the fittest on the Net that leaves those who are not as technologically endowed to make their own way is exactly the same as the strategy of progressive abandonment of those on the deficit side of the social equation that began with the cutbacks in social services in the Reagan era and which continues to accelerate in the supposedly more liberal Age of Clinton. It is thus not that inequalities do not exist in this new technological realm, it is simply that the patterns of interaction and the rhetoric that interpenetrates infotech renders such inequalities invisible; however, we should never lose sight of the fact that alongside Miranda's brave new world there always lurks that of Huxley.