The Ghost of Internet Future

The Searls quote below, with its link to an article from last June, The TV in the Snake of Time, was from a more recent article, Rethinking network neutrality.  It put me in mind of of an old, (in Internet years, 1999!), piece by Andy Oram, The Ghosts of Internet Time, which was the inspiration for a paper I wrote in graduate school, Paradise Lost?:  Geeks and the Opening of the Internet.  It's a take-off on the prophetic visions of Scrooge in Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

Andy Oram is one of the Old Guard, much like Howard Rheingold, from the days before the WorldWide Web gave the Internet mass appeal.  Even now, Ghosts retains the simple text look of a Gopher page.  The pioneers who built the Internet had high hopes for it as a force for good, but they worried, as it began to take off with the Web, about whether it would remain free and open, and this is what Searls is talking about, eleven years after Ghosts.

“Oh Ghost of Internet Future,” I cried, “show me what glories the medium has still to offer!”
Someone grasped my arm and dragged me running through mazes of clattering streets under gray skies, where no creature tread and no breeze stirred. “Where is the Internet Future?” I yelled. “Where did everybody go?”
“The Internet is gone,” said my companion, stooped and hoary.
“How could that be—what could replace its bounty?”
“The international financial institutions have a proprietary satellite-based network, imposing and impenetrable. The entertainment companies put out 6500 programs a week, all strictly metered by kilobyte and filtered to isolate controversial content. The electric companies—which always controlled the ultimate pipe, and therefore ended up controlling the medium—run the network that activates devices in the home. Everything the vendors want is built into powerful circuits costing a thousandth of a penny, making software and the culture that accompanied it obsolete. So there are many separate networks, each specialized and tightly controlled.”
“But what about democracy? What about a public space? Is there no forum for the average citizen?”
The old Ghost’s wrinkled face cracked in a sputtering, hollow laugh. “Forum? You want a forum? I’ll give you a million of ’em. Every time Consolidated Services, Inc. or Skanditek puts up a new item on their media outlets, they leave a space for viewers to post reactions. And they post, and post, and post. Nobody can track the debates…”

And this years before the walled social networks of "Web 2.0".  Perceptive, no?  Look at the hundreds of comments to a single article on CNN or any major news or political web site.  All for naught, pointless sound and fury.  But Searls is optimistic in the long run.  Yes, now there are lots of people using the Internet to shop and watch videos and television.  But all the idealistic, non-commercial stuff is still going on.  It's there if you look for it.  You may not even realize that you are using it, (e.g. Wikipedia).

IMO web logs, (blogs), are a legitimate offspring of  Usenet.  If you really have something to say, and want it to persist online, create a blog and start linking to like-minded bloggers.  Blogging is the fulfillment of Rheingold's vision of cyberspace homesteading.

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