ATHENS, 22 February 2016. A hitherto unknown manuscript attributed to the late Italian author and intellectual Umberto Eco has been discovered in Athens only days after his death. The manuscript contains a short story, which is said to bear all the hallmarks of the Eco canon, including his fascination with new technologies, medieval mysticism and conspiracy theories.
The plot of the short story, reminiscent of Eco’s novel “Foucault’s Pendulum”, revolves around a pro-government activist who is arrested at the behest of the shadowy cabal known as The Brotherhood of the Googleplex. The tabloid journalist at the centre of the plot is suspected by the Brotherhood of unravelling the secret algorithmic code through which they planned to achieve world domination by infiltrating the minds of the Greek people in order to overthrow charismatic leftist leader Alexis Tsipras. Convinced that he has cracked the code of the sacred algorithm, the hero publishes a story entitled “Google can overthrow Alexis Tsipras” which is disseminated through a series of obscure websites so as to avoid detection by the algorithm itself. The article claimed that the Brotherhood, acting at the behest of Tsipras’s predecessor, former PM Antonis Samaras, had engineered their sinister “search engine” to promote anti-Tsipras news media and turn popular sentiment against him. In his article the hero dares to point at the finger at the powerful secret society of the davatzídes behind Greece’s dominant media interests, but stopped short of revealing the exact findings of his investigation, merely stating cryptically that, “even if all of this is not easily visible to the naked eye, the conclusions can be easily reached if they are connected to events and developments” – a clear reference to the conspiracy doctrine known in Italian as dietrologia, a known motif of Eco’s work and a Greek national obsession.
In the next twist in the plot, we hear that hours later the central character was arrested on alleged blackmail charges. Eco’s publishers will not reveal what happens next, as they are planning for a posthumous publication of the manuscript. Early leaks suggest that the story reaches its climactic denouement atop the controversial “Calatrava roof” of the Athens Olympic Stadium.
The plot echoes Eco’s concerns with the authoritarian potential of the internet. As early as 1997, Eco had voiced his fear that the internet could become an Orwellian tool for controlling the masses:
“We have to create a nomenklatura of the masses. We know that state-of-the art modems, an ISDN connection, and up-to-date hardware are beyond the means of most potential users – especially when you need to upgrade every six months. So let’s give people access free, or at least for the price of the necessary phone connection.”
More recently, research indicates that free internet access is merely the gateway to mind control, as the social media industry conspire to create sinister “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles” that amplify conspiracy theories and spread misinformation. Google could (theoretically) “steal” elections, though not quite in the way our conspiratorial hero imagines. Many years later, the Greek government of Antonis Samaras appeared to act on Eco’s call by promising free wifi across Greece, a promise that he failed to live up to. Eco’s dramatisation now suggests that there may have been darker motives behind this policy initiative.