Part 1 – A handful of beads
The internet has been and is still widely touted as a huge bastion of freedom, a virtual wild west, new and uncharted lands not to mention numerous other metaphors aimed to convince us that it can herald in a utopia of untold freedoms. Now of course none of that was ever true, the apparent freedoms all relied on expensive equipment paid for and managed by businesses and bits of government of varying sizes. The freedoms existed because what was going on was largely unnoticed and not understood by those that might want to stop it.
After a while business stumbled upon this largely ignored mess and found ways to make money. Which was and is no bad thing (Personally it’s worked rather well for me and can be terribly convenient) but caused two significant changes to the spaces available to the individual:
1. Services that had been exchanged for favours became something that could be and were charged for.
2. where money’s been exchanged government interest and regulation quickly follow.
About ten years ago I worked for an ISP and everyone in that office ran their own servers to provide mail, web pages and everything else to colleagues and friends. Connection speeds were slow, the software wasn’t terribly easy to use and permanent connectivity was expensive unless your employer provided it. Today I work with the network team of a large company, connection speeds are fast, the software is vastly easier to use and connectivity is cheap and I’m the only one still running servers. The almost village like community aspects to the infrastructure for the individual have widely vanished.
But then with the alleged speed of internet time, perhaps this is just aping the change from rural communal life to city life that industrial advances brought to the “real world”. But if we want to preserve and possibly create the freedoms we were promised the internet would bring, perhaps we should ask ourselves if this is a good thing. Do we want to make ourselves subjects of the on-line kingdoms that are Google, 6-apart, myspace, facebook, ebay and their ilk. Think about a usual day – how many different on-line fiefdoms do you actually interact with? How many companies would a government need to contact to significantly impinge on your voice?
Now it may be that I’m showing my Luddite tendencies and I just miss the days when it were all fields as far as the eye could see or something. I am after all in many ways as guilty as everyone else of giving away my data and on-line presence to the big providers in exchange for a bit of convenience and a hand full of shiny beads (well virtual ones at least). Increasingly though I do wonder I if perhaps it would be healthier to make less use of these mass providers and support smaller more independent vendors , and accept that independence has a price payable in coin and convenience?