The Future of the Web (and what you can do about it)


by James Corbett
June 26, 2012

In mid-2012, in the wake of the ratification of ACTA and the proposal in the US of bills like SOPA and PIPA, in an age where the war on terror is gradually morphing into a cyberwar and database hacks, password leaks and identity thefts are reported on breathlessly, it is difficult to imagine the promise that the very idea of the Internet once aroused in the public. Just 20 years ago, in the age of the much-vaunted “Information Superhighway,” people could pontificate with a straight face on the potential for online communities to give rise to a Jeffersonian revolution and spawn a new flowering of civic participation.

Quaint as such optimism might seem to a jaundiced modern eye, to some extent that promised revolution has arrived in the birth of an alternative media that has already begun to eclipse outdated forms of information distribution. Once confined to the information accessible from local libraries, daily newspapers, and what was commonly known as “the idiot box,” the general public is now able to instantaneously access vast amounts of information on even the most obscure topics with merely a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse. From the yearly proceedings of the Bilderberg Group to the hidden history of the establishment of the Federal Reserve, subjects that once would have been virtually impossible to research are now readily available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection…or even just a smartphone.

But given the increasingly draconian measures that are being proposed to block, track, control, monitor and censor communications on the Internet, it is almost impossible to be as optimistic about the future of this technology as we once were.

This is not to say, of course, that the future of the Internet painted by these scenarios is set in stone. As always, we the people can and will be the deciding factor in how this future unfolds, and whether it becomes an Orwellian nightmare or a new flowering of human potential.

On the most basic level, there is an argument to be made that the technology of the police state itself is unworkable, a bunch of pipe dreams and hocus pocus designed to get the public to fear the government, but which is, ultimately, like the Wizard of Oz, nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

After all, biometric technology is notoriously unreliable.

Domain-name censorship is bothersome to work around, but by no means impossible.

Internet filtering schemes that have been tested in Australia and elsewhere have been dismal failures.

And it is not at all certain how an “Internet ID” can be constructed in any way that will not make identity theft more likely, and more damaging.

But the argument against the technology itself, as compelling as it is, is not the issue. One day, perhaps reliable biometric technology will be developed. Perhaps some evil genius government-funded scientist will figure out how to make Internet filtering work, or will overcome Internet ID challenges. The point is not that these systems are unworkable, but that the idea itself of monitoring, censorship and restriction goes against the potential for that Jeffersonian revolution that we once saw in the technology itself, the ability for people to become informed, motivated and active in likeminded communities without the need of the New York Times or Harper Collins or ABC.

We should not kid ourselves about the challenges that we face in the coming years. It was a small oligarchical faction that by and large shaped the public’s understanding of the world in the previous information paradigm, one in which a handful of centralized corporate entities controlled almost all of the information that the average person read, heard or watched on any given day. That faction’s constituency congregates at the CFR, or Chatham House, or Bilderberg, and they are still economically powerful. The media moguls, corporate chieftains, and corrupt politicians who have the most to lose in this information revolution know which side their bread is buttered on and know that in order to maintain the control over society that they once enjoyed, they will have to restrict the freedom we presently enjoy online. Whether that is through “Internet ID” or domain-level censorship or something else entirely, we know that our ability to exchange information freely online is a freedom that we cannot take lightly.

That is why, for instance, the support of websites like this one is so crucial in this day and age. Without people supporting the websites, authors, bloggers, and alternative media entities that they love, the system will cease to function on its own, without even the threat of censorship from above.

Even more importantly, for this information revolution to mean anything at all people will have to take responsibility for how they use their time online, and where they invest their dollars. Every time we give in to a new scheme, even something as innocuous as a “login with Facebook” feature on a website, we are freely volunteering to give up our own online freedom and anonymity for the sake of convenience. By using Google and Facebook and YouTube and Twitter, we acquiesce in the creation of a highly centralized system that is in reality a mirror image of the corporate media spiderweb that used to confine us. And when we have given our time, money and attention to make those sites into what they are, they can turn around and give our data to the government agencies that have always lusted after it, even as they censor or block any information that the governments find troublesome, all via classified agreements that the public never gets to see and only seldom know exist.

For ultimately, it is our actions now, today, on the Internet that will decide the future of the web. Either we understand the responsibility that comes with our online freedom, a responsibility to seek out alternatives to centralized control, a responsibility to avoid default settings or standardized procedures that are meant to control our actions or limit our choices, a responsibility to refuse to give in to government-mandated censorship or media-hyped cyberterror boogeymen, and to make the Internet into the Jeffersonian revolution we once believed it was or we accept the fate of a controlled, hobbled version of the Internet that we can already see laid out before us.


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