The Internet is Freedom

The discussion with Professor Jonathan was one that was both intriguing and overwhelming.  It was intriguing in the sense that my attention was captured to record every detail of his story, but is was also overwhelming because I was trying to process those details.  Nonetheless, it was great to hear from him.  Instead of seeing the development of the Internet as a development of computer science, he told it in a way that was like a story, with ‘protagonists’ like Jon Postel and ‘antagonists’ such as Network Solutions, Inc (NSI).  Overall, it was a great class.

Today’s post is not going to be long, but it is going to be centered around the main topic of the class: who runs the Internet?  It is such a powerful and omnipresent tool that whoever has control over it, they could be both extremely wealthy and powerful.  They would have the ability to control all our transactions online and what information gets to us.  Essentially, they can control how we live since almost everything is connected to the Internet in some sense.  

It is this fear of control that makes me happy to hear that the Internet is owned by no single entity.  It does make things difficult to repair and sue, but that is the beauty of it.  We all have the capability of contributing to it, putting up any content that we please.  Like Professor Jonathan said, it is “really really weird that the Internet is not owned.”  I argue that it is this weirdness that makes the Internet so powerful to the people.  However, this power appears to be fading.

It was upsetting to hear that we are moving from decentralization to centralization.  Unfortunately, that seems to be the trend in ideas that first started out as “open source.”  Let us take a look at Bitcoin.  It started out decentralized, where no one can truly own the network because it will be competing against others and their computing power.  However, it is starting to get more centralized, where entities with massive amounts of computing power have the capability of exerting a huge amount of influence on the network.  

This can also be seen with the way that we are starting to interact with the web.  Apps make it easy for us to utilize the Internet, but the content that we see on them is limited compared to a browser, where we can search for what we please.  In this case, the central authority is the creator of the app because they decide what information gets shown to us in their app.  We may have the physical freedom to break from it, but not the intellectual freedom to search for what we want.  Facebook has the ability to show us certain news from certain media stations.  This might appear good on the surface, but the implication of this is that what we get to see is “filtered.”  

Overall, it is great to hear that the Internet is still owned by no one, but it is upsetting that we are moving away from that idea.  Companies and individuals are starting to have power over the Internet because of the services they provide to us. I am not in a position to state a full opinion on this because I do not truly understand the nuances of Internet governance, but I would argue for the ‘net neutrality’ of all content of the Internet.  I am aware that this would let in malicious information such as ISIS recruiting and black markets, but it is this freedom of content that makes the Internet so powerful.  As a curiosophile, the Internet is the tool that I use to answer my questions and attempt to provide a nuanced understanding of the topic.  I want to be able to search for what I want and know what I want, not what programmer feeds me.  

3 Comments »

  1. Mike Smith

    November 8, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

    1

    Great post! It was a fascinating story, and I wish I could tell stories like JZ clearly can. It’s a talent.

    I wanted to touch upon your comment about centralization and decentralization. I’ve been around long enough to see the pendulum swing back and forth between these poles numerous times. For example, early computing machines were very centralized. All the computing power sat in one room. Then technology and business started to move us toward decentralized computing. Minicomputers started popping up in a company’s different departments, and the employees started using them instead of just the mainframe at the company’s headquarters. Then PCs and workstations started to proliferate and computing became even more distributed. Mainframes didn’t disappear, but the amount of computing taking place in them was dwarfed by the amount taking place in a distributed manner. Then the pendulum started to shift the other way. People began to talk about the power of centralization. Why should we have all our data distributed all over the place? Why do I need to have this noisy, hot computer sitting under my desk? Networking made it easy to move the computer out of my office — first down the hall into a closet near me, then to the basement, then to wherever because I no longer cared where the computer sat as long as I had a dumb terminal to access it over the network. Centralized storage also meant that I could boot up my computing environment on any dumb terminal across campus. Then things starting shifting again … I won’t give you all the details, but see if you can spot the trends in this area in the Internet (both hardware and software). See if you can argue which way the pendulum might swing next and why.

  2. robjmal670

    November 12, 2017 @ 10:41 pm

    2

    Thank you for the insight Professor Smith. Looking back into the history of the computer, I can see what you mean by the pendulum swinging back and forth between centralized and decentralized.

    Looking at the state of technology and our relation to the Internet, it appears that we are moving towards centralization once again. Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services is a great example of this because instead of companies purchasing and maintaining their own data centers, they can just rent “space” from these cloud providers. For instance, Snapchat, a company that is worth about $15 billion, does not have its own data centers. Instead, it is paying Google $2 billion to use its servers.

    Down at the consumer level, we can see this trend. For instance, if we want to Photoshop an image, we do not need to have the program installed on our computer. Furthermore, we do not even need to have a computer that has the technical specifications required to run Photoshop. We can visit some website, where some server somewhere will take care of the processing power for us. It is strange to see that we have moved from having huge centralized computers to individualized computers and back to cloud computing. It is essentially the same thing, except less wires and more complexity.

    However, the pendulum seems to be swinging back and forth more quickly than before. Before, it was common to have phones with large storage capacity to ensure that we can safely store our data. Now, we are centralizing all that data to the Cloud, slowly removing the need for more storage. And that occurred only within the last decade after the first smartphone was released. The development of technology is fast and interesting, which gives us something to be careful and in awe of.

  3. Jim Waldo

    November 11, 2017 @ 12:27 am

    3

    A nice post, bringing together a number of the ideas that we talked about…

    I’m less worried than JZ about the Internet becoming centralized (and have been for about 20 years– this isn’t the first time JZ has worried about this, nor the first time I’ve not been worried). There are lots of pressures to centralize, having to do with convenience and safety. But there are other reasons to avoid centralization, from the freedom to experiment to the ability to innovate. Not long ago it was Microsoft that everyone worried was going to take over the Internet, now it is Google and Facebook (so we have gone from one to two).

    There is always the danger of monopoly over the Internet. But the flexibility of the platform and the innovation it brings acts as a counter-balance. I think it is good to worry, but better to innovate.

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