Framing the Net: What We Say is What We Get

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Framing the Net: What We Say is What We Get. Or "Caught in the net while hurtling down the information superhighway" Session Organizers: Steve Schultze

Nothing matters more than what the Net *is*. Yet when we call it a "space" or a "stage" or "pipes," we frame it with metaphors that yield very different purposes, laws and business models—also different futures. What different laws and regulation do we get by framing the Net in terms of real estate ("domains," "sites," "commons"), transport ("packets," "content," "pipes") or theater ("audience," "experience")? How do these different frames guide debate over net neutrality, open infrastructure, governance, regulation, public good and business opportunity? Are there other ways of framing the Net, and how might they help?

1. Framing the Net: What We Say is What We Get.

If we say the Net is comprised of "sites" at "locations" in "domains" that we "architect," "design," "construct," and "build" for people to "visit", what are we saying the Net *is*?

And when we say the Net is a set of "pipes" over which we "deliver," "move,"pump" and "ship" stuff we call "content" in the form of "packets" using "transport" protocols... what kind of lawmaking and regulation does that invite?

How does that lawmaking and regulation change when we shift from real estate and shipping metaphors to those of publishing, which are what we use when we say the Web is comprised of "pages" and "documents" that we "write," "author," "post" and "syndicate"?

Metaphors give us the vocabularies we use to frame our understanding of everything we know. They're what we think and talk "in terms of" -- for everything, including the Net. They also frame laws, policies, practices and curricula -- with vastly different results, depending on the frames employed. Think about Senator Steven's tortured discourse on trucks and tubes.

All our disagreements about the Net arise from conflicting frames. The carriers opposed to Net Neutrality, for example, frame the Net as a mostly private transport system, much of which they own. Those who favor Net Neutrality frame the Net as a place (or a space), for free expression and association.

In this session we'll source and surface these frames and the differences between them, present them if fun detail, and look at which garden paths each one leads us down -- and thus frame up the discussion that follows.

(Some background: World of Ends <>, by Searls & Weinberger, 2003.)