The future of the open internet — and our way of life — is in your hands
By Quincy Larson
Mar 16 2017
There are a lot of scary things happening these days, but here’s what keeps me up late at night. A handful of corporations are turning our open internet into this:
These corporations want to lock down the internet and give us access to nothing more than a few walled gardens. They want to burn down the Library of Alexandria and replace it with a magazine rack.
Why? Because they’ll make more money that way.
This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but this process is moving forward at an alarming rate.
History is repeating itself.
So far, the story of the internet has followed the same tragic narrative that’s befallen other information technologies over the past 160 years:
• the telegram
• the telephone
Each of these had roughly the same story arc:
• Inventors discovered the technology.
• Hobbyists pioneered the applications of that technology, and popularized it.
• Corporations took notice. They commercialized the technology, refined it, and scaled it.
• Once the corporations were powerful enough, they tricked the government into helping them lock the technology down. They installed themselves as “natural monopolies.”
• After a long period of stagnation, a new technology emerged to disrupt the old one. Sometimes this would dislodging the old monopoly. But sometimes it would only further solidify them.
This loop has repeated itself so many times that Tim Wu — the Harvard law professor who coined the term “Net Neutrality” — has a name for it: The Cycle.
“History shows a typical progression of information technologies, from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel — from open to closed system.” — Tim Wu
And right now, we’re in step 4 the open internet’s narrative. We’re surrounded by monopolies.
The problem is that we’ve been in step 4 for decades now. And there’s no step 5 in sight. The creative destruction that the Economist Joseph Schumpeter first observed in the early 1900s has yet to materialize.
The internet, it seems, is special. It’s the ultimate information technology — capable of supplanting the telegram, telephone, radio, cinema, television, and much more — and there’s no clear way to disrupt it.
But the war for the commanding heights of the internet is far from over. There are many players on this global chess board. Governments. Telecom monopolies. Internet giants like Google and Facebook. NGOs. Startups. Hackers. And — most importantly — you.