The war for the open internet is the defining issue of our time. It’s a scramble for control of the very fabric of human communication. And human communication is all that separates us from the utopia that thousands of generations of our ancestors slowly marched us toward — or the Orwellian, Huxleyan, Kafkaesque dystopia that a locked-down internet would make possible.By the end of this article, you’ll understand what’s happening, the market forces that are driving this, and how you can help stop it. We’ll talk about the brazen monopolies who maneuver to lock down the internet, the scrappy idealists who fight to keep it open, and the vast majority of people who are completely oblivious to this battle for the future.In Part 1, we’ll explore what the open internet is and delve into the history of the technological revolutions that preceded it.In Part 2, we’ll talk about the atoms. The physical infrastructure of the internet. The internet backbone. Communication satellites. The “last mile” of copper and fiber optic cables that provide broadband internet.In Part 3, we’ll talk about bits. The open, distributed nature of the internet and how it’s being cordoned off into walled gardens by some of the largest multinational corporations in the world.In Part 4, we’ll explore the implications of all this for consumers and for startups. You’ll see how you can help save the open internet. I’ll share some practical steps you can take as a citizen of the internet to do your part and keep it open.
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Imagine, for a moment, if it were possible to provide access not just to those books, but to all knowledge for everyone, everywhere—the ultimate realisation of Panizzi’s dream. In fact, we don’t have to imagine: it is possible today, thanks to the combined technologies of digital texts and the Internet. The former means that we can make as many copies of a work as we want, for vanishingly small cost; the latter provides a way to provide those copies to anyone with an Internet connection. The global rise of low-cost smartphones means that group will soon include even the poorest members of society in every country. That is to say, we have the technical means to share all knowledge, and yet we are nowhere near providing everyone with the ability to indulge their learned curiosity
We know that applications such as Google Maps, Google Earth and StreetView already acquiesce to regulations that require obscuration of government installations, private companies’ facilities in some cases, some brands, and private citizens faces and number plates—even as it works hard to decipher items like house numbers. In other words, technology is used to differentiate what we can see and not see, depending on the legal or ethical (or otherwise) standards of a particular place. For the most part, Google Maps, Google Earth and StreetView are forms of augmented reality. They digitally render reality with forms of markup, of contextual data, which adds to our perception of places. Except in the cases of blur, pixelation and, it could be argued, accidental presentation of various kinds of render ghosts—people and things only partly captured or partly presented, artifacts of digital accident or persistent memory. Some kind of determination is made that there are things present in reality that we can’t or shouldn’t see.
I think it’s time to get back to basics. More and more of my friends are leaving or being forced out of Google+. Some refused to submit a driver’s license just to prove that their legal name was real. Many cannot safely socialize under their real names. Some just value their privacy. Let’s ask this basic question again. Who is harmed by Google’s “real name” policy?
Right now, all of the places we can assemble on the web in any kind of numbers are privately owned. And privately-owned public spaces aren’t real public spaces. They don’t allow for the play and the chaos and the creativity and brilliance that only arise in spaces that don’t exist purely to generate profit. And they’re susceptible to being gradually gaslighted by the companies that own them.