Technology and Politics of Control: Introduction

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What's up with the web? On this subject, The Future Of The Internet writes a past and a future around the reader's moment. The declaration and the manifesto attempt to define the public and private internet in terms which seek finality and yet belie their protean present. "Digital Borders" gives the legal coordinates of a worldwide frontier. All of these readings give us context and historical background on the technology, culture, law and commerce of the internet and personal computers -the web. This huge subject reaches around all of us with tendrils of relevance. They're hiding around every corner. For example, one realizes that they are reading about publishing rights on a free, on-line publication. Is that strictly legal? Should one read on and seek and understanding of the law at the risk of breaking it? More reasonably, does this document describe itself and it's own relevance on this subject? Like the web, such tendrils are conceptual, made of whatever can be imagined, and much is made of this virtual, malleable openness which characterizes productive, expansive thought. It is, by all of these accounts, the key to the web's value. Naturally, the concept of control arises as the antithesis of all this good, generative stuff.

Control! It sounds fascist, or like the unfortunate predisposition of a clueless, brooding, antiquated chauvinist. But use the obvious simile where the web, in all of its organic complexity, is like a giant mind. It expands like a creative, learning thing. It learns to do new things, stores new information, and maybe changes temperament. It grows. Now, if you are picturing a child and phases of cognitive development, picture the out-of-control child. Picture the energetic, active, restless child with no parents. This image may mesh well with the 'state of nature' which is so palpable in John Perry Barlow's declaration. Yet Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's article shows Yahoo! in a tug-o-war with the dreaded control which literally squelches fascism on the one hand enables wide-scale repression on the other. Control may be a force as powerful and malleable as openness. Maybe some balance can be found. And what about the money?

Economics, all things being equal, may provide some outside criteria by which to judge the progress of the rolling ball of control and generation at odds from this weeks readings. Barlow says there is no matter or property in cyberspace, and that all may enter without privilege of economics. The Cluetrain Manifesto says that "security is a red herring." One has to wonder whether these authors are really mindful of our 'world-wide' economic realities. It seems that countries with limited infrastructure will indeed depend on governments and tangible assets to achieve internet connectedness and concomitant education. And are the Cluetrain's fifty-million users really bound by a common purpose more specific than general prosperity?* Economic arguments favor openness in Jonathan Zittrain's first two chapters, where control manifests itself as inflexibility with a planned-obselescence-like wastefulness as detrimental as monopoly. The futurism and progressive fever in the declaration and manifesto show how the newness of the web and the vastness of its effects clearly contribute to a panoramic critique of business as usual. Alas, more generation. But is control what's down with the web?

-Dave Panzarino

'What about liberty?' you may ask -hey, this is just a thought provoking exercise! I'm not a an MBA! Maybe liberty is included in that 'all things being equal' above. See, I want to go to law school.