Underestimating the internet

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Barrett Brown

I am the founder of the distributed think-tank Project PM and a regular inactive to Vanity Fair and Skeptical Inquirer. My work has also appeared in The Onion, National Lampoon, New York Press, D Magazine, Skeptic, McSweeney's, American Atheist, and a couple of newspapers in the U.S. and Mexico as well as a few policy journals. I'm the author of two books and serve as a consultant to various political entities and private clients.

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18 Responses

  1. It looks to me like Negroponte was much more prescient than Clifford Stoll, but he wasn’t entirely on the mark either:

    “Twenty years from now, [Negroponte] said, children who are used to finding out about other countries through the click of a mouse ‘are not going to know what nationalism is.'”

    Are kids really not going to care about national identity in seven years?

    The internet’s in an extremely early phase? Agreed. Its current state probably won’t have much to do with what it looks like a few decades from now? For sure. Why is this something worth making enemies over?Report

    • Avatar Barrett Brown says:

      Negroponte was certainly off the mark on that one. Having said that, certain internet dynamics have already paved the way for a new sort of post-nationalism.Report

  2. Didn’t Al Gore want to centrally manage and “plan” the Internet around 1995?Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I can buy this. I’m actually starting to believe that the League of Ordinary Gentlemen is not a stable entity but rather an incredibly dynamic and ever-shifting composite!Report

  4. We don’t even have the internet in England, yet. But my dad invented it.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I am still under the impression that we have no idea what the internet means.

    It allows nigh-instantaneous communication all over the world, it allows for all of that communication to be archived and retrievable, and we are making quantum leaps when it comes to storage capabilities (I remember wondering aloud why in the hell anybody would need a 100 gig drive… but now we can hold terabytes in our hands and we think “well, if I get a second one of these, I can back up the first”).

    Everything that anybody thinks can be put into storage to be retrieved by anybody else, instantaneously (see, and boggle, at wikipedia).

    As our tools learn to process even faster and hold even more, we’ll soon have to figure out how to ask questions.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

      The question I have is will this make it easier or harder to be a tyrant?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Harder, I imagine. Look at China.

        I imagine it was much easier to control the flow of information when you controlled the newspapers and television channels.

        I’ll compare to Furries, if I may.

        Before the internet, if you were a furry, you couldn’t really talk about it. What was there to do? You figured that you were a pervert and there was nobody else in the world like you living in a basement somewhere drawing pictures of elk or skunks between viewings of Walt Disney’s Robin Hood.

        The internet allowed a bunch of people who thought they were the only people like them in the world to find out, HOLY CRAP!!! THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE LIKE ME!!!! They could discuss things, share creations, have meetups, so on and so forth.

        It’s the same for people who have had loved ones disappeared by the government.

        Back when you were the only one you knew that had a loved one disappeared, you couldn’t talk about it with anybody. It was shameful. Now? The knowledge that there are more like you is empowering. Have discussion boards, share knowledge, have meet-ups.

        The more information that gets shared, the harder it is to be a tyrant.

        Again: We don’t know what the internet means yet.Report

      • “The question I have is will this make it easier or harder to be a tyrant?

        You saw this:

        Internet: Friend of Dictators or Dissenters?
        http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/internet-friend-of-dictators-or-dissenters/57626/

        And this:

        A Different Aspect of the Internet-and-Freedom Story
        http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/a-different-aspect-of-the-internet-and-freedom-story/57744/

        Right?Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    An entire article about the internet and not one mention of porn? Geez.Report

  7. Avatar Kevin Carson says:

    At least Stoll hadn’t seen the subsequent fifteen years. Reading someone like Andrew Keen, you’d get the idea he’s lived through them with his eyes closed.

    The popularity of the “Library of Babel” analogy is strong evidence that “intellectuals” are no more enlightened than Tea Partiers when it comes to regurgitating stuff “everybody knows” (in their social circle, anyway) without every stopping to examine it.

    The thing about the Library of Babel, though, was that it had no catalog! No search engines, no hyperlinks, no slashdot filtering, and no semantic tagging. The Internet does.

    As for Al Gore’s vision of the Internet, I think what he and the other “Information Superhighway” enthusiasts had in mind was something like the French Infotel: a parody of even Web 1.0 itself, with lots of static web pages (essentially brochures) put up by large institutions and lots of streaming walled-garden proprietary content for pay. Essentially cable TV with ten thousand channels.Report

    • I left a comment here before, but it mysteriously disappeared for some reason. My point was that even if the Library of Babel did have a catalogue, the sheer size of the library and the limits of corporeality would make it effectively useless. Not only does the popularity of the analogy indicate a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Internet but it also indicates a profound misunderstanding of the nature of information.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “Essentially cable TV with ten thousand channels.”

      Yeah; if you look at the early “services” like Prodigy or AOL, that’s pretty much what you have. Webpages that seem like monolithic artifacts, carved from wood at a cost of thousands of dollars. User interactivity? Well, we have a phone number you can call to get some brochures mailed, if you want. Or you could call our sales department. E-mail? Wha? Why would we give you access to our internal mail network?Report