Bruce Schneier, “Power and the Internet”:
All disruptive technologies upset traditional power balances, and the Internet is no exception. The standard story is that it empowers the powerless, but that’s only half the story. The Internet empowers everyone. Powerful institutions might be slow to make use of that new power, but since they are powerful, they can use it more effectively. Governments and corporations have woken up to the fact that not only can they use the Internet, they can control it for their interests. Unless we start deliberately debating the future we want to live in, and information technology in enabling that world, we will end up with an Internet that benefits existing power structures and not society in general.This is the thing. Even in 2013, too many of us still believe, down deep, when we’re not forcing ourselves to think clearly, that there’s something magic about the internet that always works to the benefit of underdogs. That the fact that we now all carry more computing power in our pocket than was used in the spaceship that landed on the Moon means that somehow all these “disruptions” will amount to a net increase in the autonomy and power of individuals.
To a significant extent these delusions reflect the tremendous success of the narratives promulgated by modern libertarianism, the just-so stories of “free markets” and the “wisdom of crowds.” Even non-libertarians have spent a generation eating that stuff up. Faith in those ideas has led many of us into quietism and apathy. But in fact, in the words of the Kevin Maroney remark quoted on the colophon of Making Light, “a better future isn’t going to happen by itself.” While we dream our dreams of the wisdom of crowds, power works in silence.
You should read all of Bruce’s essay. But here’s the last paragraph anyway:
[I]f we’re not trying to understand how to shape the Internet so that its good effects outweigh the bad, powerful interests will do all the shaping. The Internet’s design isn’t fixed by natural laws. Its history is a fortuitous accident: an initial lack of commercial interests, governmental benign neglect, military requirements for survivability and resilience, and the natural inclination of computer engineers to build open systems that work simply and easily. This mix of forces that created yesterday’s Internet will not be trusted to create tomorrow’s. Battles over the future of the Internet are going on right now: in legislatures around the world, in international organizations like the International Telecommunications Union and the World Trade Organization, and in Internet standards bodies. The Internet is what we make it, and is constantly being recreated by organizations, companies, and countries with specific interests and agendas. Either we fight for a seat at the table, or the future of the Internet becomes something that is done to us.Aaron Swartz knew this. We need to know it in our bones.