The Internet Wants to be Free, for Real This Time

With net neutrality compromised, the persecution of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange ongoing and the new tech bubble expanding, should we consider a newer and freer internet?

The Internet Wants to be Free, for Real This Time

Douglas Rushkoff thinks so, although he’s not the first. Jaron Lanier, self-styled tech guru and dreadlocked visionary, has been passionately taking a similar position (read his 2010 book “You Are Not A Gadget”).

Both Rushkoff and Lanier believe something happened as the Internet—itself a creation of anti-authoritarians and free information advocates—shifted its model from a tool of personal expression into one large information aggregator. Facebook and Google writ large. The internet became corporate, co-opted by the suits who never believed in the creation in the first place until they saw a profit could be made through ISP’s, amassing data to sell to other corporations and governments and a means by which they could create aetheric tech bubbles like that of the 90s.

The bubble is happening all over again with Facebook’s artificially-inflated valuation of $50 billion: a figure so absurd that the bullshit sold by Facebook and its private investors, like Digital Sky Technologies and now Goldman Sachs, should be apparent to anyone with a critical eye. They are driving up the price of their stock so that when Facebook’s IPO comes (and it will), every stockholder will be able to sell high to other elite investors.

Either Facebook will go the way of some of the start-ups of the 90s or will follow Google and become a financial juggernaut. Many are not convinced of the latter scenario, however, but that will not stop Facebook’s investors from selling the illusion.

The Facebook Bubble of 2011 should serve to remind us all that Facebook is and never was about us, but about the data that could be stored by the digital miser Mark Zuckerberg—data which investors are betting their fortunes on in an almost cynical display of financial class arrogance.

We may not pay to use Facebook, but we no longer own the information we choose to put on the internet. An idea that Zuckerberg has primed by repeating the mantra that privacy no longer exists. Zuckerberg is essentially saying that we need to get over the fact that someone will have bought our personal information, so keep on adding to the stores.

Not all business is bad on the Internet, but the archiving of personal information by Google and Facebook is troubling. Lanier calls the two tech giants “Lords of the Cloud,” and that Web 2.0 has engendered a “mob” mentality in which the individual is devalued at the expense of the crowd—which works well for a model based on profit.  

Viral hits are an example of this in action, and businesses spend a great deal of time and money devising ways to precipitate a viral reaction for their product. Lanier calls this the “hive mind.”

Lanier states:

“The real customer is the advertiser of the future, but this creature has yet to appear at the time this is being written. The whole artifice, the whole idea of fake friendship, is just bait laid by the lords of the clouds to lure hypothetical advertisers—we might call them messianic advertisers—who might someday show up.”

Another great example of the perversion of the internet is Sony, Universal Music Group and Abu Dhabi Media’s obnoxious music video website VEVO. Monumentally slow load times, censorship of images and too many ads. In fact, VEVO was envisioned as a means of attracting high-end advertisers. How many times have we been searching for a music video on YouTube and been re-routed to VEVO, sighed, then tried another search?

If we are part of the “hive mind” as Lanier suggests, and which Rushkoff intimates (although with different language) what do we do about it?

Rushkoff and Lanier are both calling for something like a reboot.

What is interesting is that unless someone has an epiphany of this sort on their own or happens to read Rushkoff and Lanier (or others of their kind), they will not easily unplug themselves from the hive mind.

My epiphany, for instance, came when I read Senator Joe Lieberman’s bill that would give the President powers to shut down parts of the internet in the event of cyberterrorism. Lieberman most likely meant Islamic cyberterrorism, but the very openness of the interpretation of cyberterrorism could be applied in ways that should give us all pause.

Right now we are sustained in a form of capitalist fascism. That is, they’ve got us right where they want us economically and politically: a mass of neutered and stunned cows who are forced to choose between a Republican or Democrat, then wonder with great incredulity at how things simply do not change.

Back to epiphanies, though. Lieberman’s “Internet Kill Switch” bill was an eye-opening experience for many, not because of its immediate intended use, but for the great power it could impart to a future President who, like Caesar Augustus, throws out the last vestiges of popular government and rules as an autocrat. This President would be able to silence any popular revolution, and that is a problem.

Lieberman’s very bad idea got me wondering if somewhere in the world, maybe in America, maybe China, people with the expertise (such as hackers, computer programmers, etc) were at work building an underground internet. Something that could not be turned off. Something like Thomas Pynchon’s fictional postal service Tristero in “The Crying of Lot 49,” with their W.A.S.T.E. bins and muted horns, out there operating in the world, but silent and waiting.

There are hidden corridors to the internet where anti-authoritarian and free information advocates communicate with one another without fear of being tracked by the U.S. government, Google, Facebook, etc. They are truly free and they know how it can be done.

Is it possible to build an alternative internet: one free of information aggregation and storage? Yes. In my opinion, the first step is to make ISP’s obsolete, so that our service cannot be slowed or shut off by corporations. My guess is that an alternative internet or maybe multiple internets exist free of the current profit model.

Rushkoff made a solid gambit by speaking of this on Shareable, but he needs to go further.

We all need to go further.