The Internet, as it is, is broken. It is not enough to salvage the status quo. We must rethink our approach. Over the next several posts, I want to focus on the people and organizations who doing just that.
In a few days, Ajit Pai, a corporate stooge now in charge of a corrupt government agency, will reshape the modern Internet into another form of cable TV.
This is not an unexpected transformation.
The corporate mergers and reformations that have connected large scale television and entertainment companies to ISPs and cable providers have been deliberately moving to this point. The sad reality is that the Internet, as it exists today, is more an entertainment platform than it is a communication platform. This should be a surpise to no one. What do you expect from something that is financed through advertising and ratings?
Like his boss, Ajit Pai is simply a symptom of systemic failure. His only power comes from corrupting an already failing system.
Pai is helping the corporations that pay his bills regain control over those entertainment platforms. He is bringing eyes back and driving advertising and ratings into the "right" spaces to increase Comcast's and Verizon's profits and his own overflowing pocketbook. After all, the U.S. will pay. What will we do without our Netflix and our Youtube? We might actually have to think about what is happening beyond the near constant stream of super hero films and petty personalities. It is so much easier when we are spoon-fed our daily dose of rage in bite-sized morsels designed for rapid viewing after a few messages from a sponsor or two.
What the FCC is doing is monstrous and wrong. There is no doubt of that. It is part of an ongoing assault on the citizens of the United States that began even before the new administration took power, but which has become even more brazen and vile in its practices in this last year.
I hope for change, but even with a groundswell in 2018, we need to remember these moments. These are the moments that remind us that it is not the institutions that matter, it is the people. Institutions can be corrupted. They can be led by fools and thieves. Institutions fail.
People matter. Their action, collective action, does not require institutional power. Quite often, it occurs in the face of that power. The Internet was pitched as a platform to connect people and drive collection action. For a brief moment, it may have actually done that.
In many ways, though, I fear that moment has passed. The Internet today is a financial enterprise for entertainment and sales. People are products. They are the used not the user. Pai's corrupted Internet is the predictable evolution of just such a system.
But, we still reach out, and we still look for ways to connect. The network has been corrupted, but the people are still there. People who are willing to seek new platforms and paths to rebuild and recreate the network in new ways. They see the human connection that stands at the heart of the Internet's promise and they build on that.
I was trying to figure out my response to the FCC's actions. Calling and protest are great and needed, but I wanted to do something more on this site. I want my scholarship to prize action over critique, and I want that to be evident here. I believe in protest followed by ongoing action for positive change. It is in that action that I find rejuvenation. A focus on rebuilding and positivity over the constant sense of calamity that pervades this time. We should not look away, but neither should we let the doom overtake us. While cliched, it is true that in every dark moment, there are opportunities for light.
Over the next few months, I am going to focus on those moments of light with regard to people and technology. I will highlight groups that focus on technology from a people-first perspective. In particular, I want to examine attempts to create and use technology in new ways, in different ways, and sometimes in long-forgotten ways, to challenge the current models and approaches especially those approaches that lead to greater marginalization and isolation. Who knows, maybe within these spaces we will find more reasons for hope than we expected.