I don't know about you, but I had big hopes for the Internet. You remember how it was, the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it? A grand force for free speech and ultimately, political organization? The anti-war protests and the Dean phenomenon were supposed proofs-of-concept.
Now we get this from The New Republic, and I guess it should have been obvious from the beginning. Technology really and truly doesn't seem to me to change the fundamental underlying problems of politics and economics in any substantive way. It just re-equilibrates the balance of power. The hope, I suppose, was that the Internet would redistribute the power over distribution of information by lowering the cost of entry. You didn't need to own a printing press to get your ideas out, or convince (or pay) someone who did. All you needed was a free e-mail account. But in the meantime you're depending on a hugely expensive infrastructure and a lot of hidden technical expertise. In the old days, much of the infrastructure was owned by educational and research institutions, which valued the exchange of ideas over all else, and many of the people who used it had the technical knowledge to add to the network without depending on anyone else. But for the vast majority of Internet users today, neither of those things hold true. Most depend on Microsoft software, Intel Hardware, whatever corporate ISP, be they cable company, phone company, or backbone provider, and conglomorate content providers. Even search engines and e-mail services are provided by gigantic companies. Most people couldn't even run their own mail server if they wanted to, because they don't have a static IP address.
Those of us with the expertise will need to provide our services to get around whatever barriers to political organization and mobilization end up being interposed. We can provide help with encryption or proxying or spoofing or whatever. Or we can sit around and get paid the big bucks as techno-authoritarianism prevails in China and MicroComcastAOLDisney prevails in the United States.
--Melissa O, at 04:59