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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Whose Internet is This?

Peter Klein, author of the book Capitalist and Entrepreneur, writes extensively about how the internet was created by the government but how the internet has flourished because of market enterprise. His point is that the internet wouldn't have come about had it not been for government funding and cultivation. He makes room in his understanding for how markets and governments compliment each other. His article from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute from four years ago this month was written before the most recent rounds of debate about the internet--privacy issues--and freedom.

The current issue of Newsweek has an article by Julia Baird entitled "The Front Line is Online--Freedom should trump privacy." One of the emphasized points of her article is that an overwhelming majority of people (even those few who currently don't have access) feel that it is a fundamental right to be able to use it. The counterpoint is that privacy issues may be best handled by the information a person decides to share.

These are very interesting times we're in. People all over the world are feeling the impact of governments and corporations and a growing number of us are finding it more difficult to earn a living. Major problems such as environmental disasters and economic upheaval are leading people to reach out to other like minded individuals to seek solutions--often by using channels other than a political process.

The internet is more than just Facebook and Google. But taken together Google and Facebook (as symbols of search engines and social networking) compose the most powerful communication tool which has ever been imagined. Peter Klein couldn't have known how the internet would evolve.  Nor can we begin to know what it will look like by mid-decade. But all of us expect it to be much more powerful than it is today.

What if governments and corporations consolidate the power and enterprise of the internet?  What history exists to suggest some other course is likely to occur? There has been one grand experiment in the history of mankind, and that is called The United States of America, in which power was fully taken back by the people and a new form of government was created. Is the experiment fully functional today? Are there indications that the people, even in the United States are losing their power, and that power is residing mostly with corporations, that in fact control the government? And is that same model something which caused revolution and the need for people to regain their rights which had been lost?

These may be dangerous questions to ask but they are only questions. Thank goodness we have the ability to debate and to question and we have the greatest tool ever created for doing so--and that tool is the internet. Both corporations and governments are really just networks of individuals. How we look deeply at the issues of privacy and freedom and how we decide to manage this vast internet network will also deternine how we handle the biggest challenges facing mankind. How we take care of the planet and how we take care of each other--will decide the fate of human culture. This all starts with our ability to communicate. Who controls the internet then, may be the most pressing question we face.
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