Charitable? Colonialism?

Learning the history of how the internet was built reminds me of the difficulties of building something that is now so prevalent and obviously useful.  From today’s perspective, I would have thought that the rise of the internet is inevitable, but there were many obstacles such as different packet sizes and choosing that the network was dumb and unreliable with smart endpoints.  Scaling the network also posed a problem that we do not consider today.  In the present, we get upset if our FaceTime to someone across the globe does not connect immediately.  We take reliability for granted and expect speed, while neither could be counted on before.


I wonder about the range of intentions for expanding the internet.  Recently, Facebook’s aggressive push for global expansion has brought debates about Facebook’s behavior.  Some argue that Facebook’s expansion into Africa that includes building lines is not dissimilar from the original European colonial expansion.  One could look at Facebook as a company solely interested in expanding its empire and control over people.  However, bringing internet and connectivity through Facebook to places such as Africa is undeniably beneficial for communication.  Facebook also has attempted to expand into places such as China that has tight government censorship, which Facebook has seemed willing to comply with.  Does Facebook in China benefit people as there already exists similar services?  Mark Zuckerburg has been seen wining and dining China’s leader Xi Jinping.  Did people fifty years ago do the same to convince others of the usefulness of the internet?  As an unknown quantity, the internet must have been hard to sell as most tend to be resistant to change or at least skeptical.


Harvard buying the TLD “.harvard” would have made it incrementally faster to type out URLs and also just a cool concept, but otherwise mostly insignificant.  With bookmarks and Google search, shortening an URL is not necessarily beneficial to users, but more of a luxury.  On the other hand, one could similarly argue that the internet itself is a luxury since people lived happy lives without it.  I think that a commonly overlooked aspect of the internet for students is the ability to search for any information on the internet for learning.  I think that my college experience would be very different without the internet.


  1. Mike Smith

    September 21, 2017 @ 2:24 pm


    Thanks for your thoughts, Matty! They’re very insightful.

    You TLD comment hits home for me. I almost never type out a URL these days. Bookmarks and search is the way to go. It’s interesting that browsers haven’t really adapted to this new reality. Sure, you can type in the URL box as if it was a search box, but it seems like there’s an opportunity for someone or some company to really rethink the browser interface on all our devices.

    I’m not sure what the answers are to your colonialism questions. They’re certainly being asked in many places today. The Internet isn’t expanding, for example, in India and Africa in the same way that it did in the U.S. The cultures are different. The existing infrastructure (or not) is different. This is a fascinating thing to watch.

  2. cindizzle4

    September 22, 2017 @ 2:09 am


    Super cool thoughts in your post! Whenever I’m in China, I actually can’t access Facebook because it’s blocked. The only social media I can use is WeChat, a social media platform that has really taken over most of China. In fact, many people don’t carry wallets around anymore because they can use WeChat to pay for everything; grocery stores, restaurants, taxis (also China’s version of Uber, DiDi is linked to WeChat), and basically all other major services accept WeChat pay. I don’t know if any other social media platform will penetrate into the market because it seems like everybody is so reliant on WeChat in China.

Leave a Comment

Log in