So now that we have a bit of background on what the Internet is and where it came from, and how all this ties in with the World Wide Web, I would like to invite any questions or comments from you.
Hopefully I can address them all in this column, but at a minimum I will e-mail you a reply. The address again is firstname.lastname@example.org
Now for this week’s discussion. I was listening to CBC Radio the other day and they had a good discussion on cell phones—and whether or not they were instruments of liberation or tools of control.
As is often the case, I found the most astute comment on the subject was something that cut a path somewhere through the middle.
Please forgive me for not having the quote exactly right, but it ran something like “the cell phone does not inherently lead to either the liberation or oppression of people, and can only be understood within the context of local political and social forces in addition to the context within which the technology itself is developed.”
We easily can extend this argument to our own review of the Internet. In and of itself, the Internet is a technical entity with any connotation of good or evil coming from how we utilize it.
In its evolution to where it currently is today, and especially in its manifestation as the “Web,” the Internet has carried with it a strong mythology of freedom and liberation.
In using the term myth, I do not mean to imply that this is not true, but rather to hopefully invoke in you a sense of the complexity and intricacy that accompanies all mythology and hopefully inspire a want to look a little deeper.
As we have seen, the Internet, in its infancy, was created solely as a military tool. The simple term “military” carries with it a voluminous and complex mythology of its own, and much of that mythology is not compatible with the ideas of freedom that surround the modern Internet.
But the Internet is a dynamic and almost organic creature, and to overshadow its evolution with its birth and place too much focus on why it initially was created, would be irresponsible.
In its evolution, it has no doubt given us new tools to more readily access and share information and this, of course, is why people will commonly speak of freedom when they talk about the Internet.
As this evolution has continued, though, one of the most striking adaptations has been the commercialization of the Internet and coalescing of points of access to a few enormous commercial entities.
I am, of course, referring to the phenomenon of Google.
This should not be surprising if we consider the technology in its political and social context. Ours is a commercial society, with the primary imperative of deriving profit from consumption.
As more people consumed Internet services, it only would be natural that commercial interests would be drawn in. I think what was less foreseeable was how a single company would come to be so dominant.
To help reconcile the myth of freedom with the monopoly of control that Google has attained (I would not argue that Google has greatly abused this position, but I would say that any monopoly creates at least the potential for abuse), I think we would be well-served to refer back to why the Internet was created.
It is, of course, in the interest of security if you are developing a communications network to build into features that enhance centralization and control.
The Internet was not designed to help free communication between individuals, though it has been very good at doing just that, and so it is impossible to expect such considerations would have been weighed when design decisions were made.
Whether consciously or otherwise, it would seem the success of Google has been to capitalize on those aspects of the Internet that tend to centralization.
Troy L’Hirondelle is a programmer and systems administrator at Times Web Design.