**--- title: Internet for the People author: Ben Tarnoff url: date: 2023-04-24 source: kindle tags: media/books

Internet for the People

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Highlights

  • MAREA is a reminder that the internet has a body. A body of glass, copper, silicon, and a thousand other things—things that have to be dug out of the earth and hammered into useful shapes, with significant inputs of labor and energy. Bodies are material; they are also historical. If the internet is not a place of pure spirit—a “civilization of the Mind,” as the cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow once called it—neither is it a place untouched by the past. It is entangled with history, and often in quite literal ways. (Location 57)
  • Connectivity is never neutral. The growth of networks was guided by a desire for power and profit. They were not just conduits for conveying information, but mechanisms for forging relationships of control. (Location 70)
  • The internet reformers have some good ideas, but they never quite reach the root of the problem. The root is simple: the internet is broken because the internet is a business. (Location 87)
  • The process of privatization started in the internet’s basement, with the pipes. In the 1990s, the US government gave the private sector a network created at enormous public expense. Corporations took over the internet’s physical infrastructure and made money from selling access to it. But privatization didn’t stop there. The real money didn’t lie in monetizing access, but in monetizing activity—that is, in what people did once they got online. So privatization ascended to the upper floors, to the layer where the internet is experienced. (Location 114)
  • Deprivatization aims at creating an internet where people, and not profit, rule. (Location 131)

New highlights added April 25, 2023 at 9:54 AM

  • The internet is fundamentally a language—a set of rules for how computers should communicate. These rules have to strike a very delicate balance. On the one hand, they have to be strict enough to ensure the reliable transmission of data. On the other, they have to be loose enough to accommodate all the different ways that data might be transmitted. Together, these qualities ensure that data can not only go anywhere, but also get there in one piece. (Location 185)
  • The internet was such an unlikely idea that only decades of public funding and planning could bring it into existence. Not only did the basic technology have to be invented, but the infrastructure had to be built, specialists had to be trained, and contractors had to be staffed, funded, and, in some cases, directly spun off from government agencies. The internet is sometimes compared to the interstate highway system, another major public project. But as the activist Nathan Newman points out, the comparison only makes sense if the government “had first imagined the possibility of cars, subsidized the invention of the auto industry, funded the technology of concrete and tar, and built the whole initial system.” (Location 199)
  • The contractors who contributed to ARPANET had to share the source code of their creations. This catalyzed scientific creativity, as researchers from a range of different institutions could refine and expand on each other’s work without living in fear of intellectual property law. (Location 222)
  • The protocol developed by Cerf and Kahn had fulfilled its promise. Eventually, it would evolve into a whole suite of protocols called TCP/IP. Today, TCP/IP is the lingua franca of the internet. It is no exaggeration to say that TCP/IP is the internet: without its rules, the world’s networks would be a Babel of mutually unintelligible tongues. This universality was created with a particular end in mind. The internet was designed to run anywhere because the US military is everywhere. Today, it maintains around eight hundred bases in some eighty-five countries around the world. It has hundreds of ships, thousands of planes, and thousands of tanks. The reason the internet can work across any device, network, and medium is because it needed to be as ubiquitous as the military that financed its creation. It needed to be able to knit together a heterogeneous collection of people and machines into a single network of networks, so that a soldier in a Jeep or a pilot in a B-52 could use a computer thousands of miles away. (Location 260)
  • While the government created the internet, it was users who made it useful, who made it a place worth visiting. (Location 275)
  • The web did not replace the internet; it lived within the internet. But over the course of the 1990s, many newcomers would come to know the internet primarily through the web, to the point where people had trouble distinguishing between the two. (Location 313)
  • Among these was Senator Daniel Inouye, who introduced a bill in 1994 that would have made telecom companies reserve up to 20 percent of their capacity for “public uses.” This capacity would be considered “public property”—the telecoms would have no control over it. And it would be used to offer free access to qualifying organizations, such as libraries, nonprofits, and educational institutions, so long as they provided “educational, informational, cultural, civic, or charitable services directly to the public without charge for such services.” Such organizations would also receive funding to support their ability to provide these services. The idea had been the brainchild of the Telecommunications Policy Roundtable, a coalition of unionized workers, consumer activists, computer professionals, and others who, during the telecom policy debates of Clinton’s first term, offered a lonely counterpoint to the deregulatory enthusiasm of the era by demanding a “public lane on the information superhighway.” (Location 375)

New highlights added April 26, 2023 at 9:55 AM

  • “Broadband is like water and electricity now, and yet it’s still being treated like a luxury.” As the pandemic powerfully illustrated, a good internet connection is a necessity. It is a prerequisite for full participation in social, economic, political, and cultural life, and one that many millions of Americans don’t possess. (Location 523)
  • The philosopher John Dewey once observed that individual self- rule has two ingredients. The first is freedom from external coercion or constraint—from “subjection to the will and control of others.” But this kind of freedom—“negative” freedom—is insufficient by itself. For people to rule themselves, they also need “positive” freedom: the freedom to set and pursue ends. And positive freedom requires stuff, or what Dewey calls the “resources necessary to carry purposes into effect.” (Location 532)
  • This power must be rooted in something more robust than the opportunity to choose one’s government representatives every few years. Elections are the minimum of democracy’s meaning. Democracy requires a richer set of practices and a wider sphere of control to be fully democratic. It must, as the theorist Stuart Hall writes, take place not just occasionally and within certain circumscribed zones but “across all the centres of social activity—in private as well as public life, in personal associations as well as in compulsory obligations, in the family and the neighbourhood and the nursery and the shopping centre as well as in the public office or at the point of production.” And, we might add, in the realm of the internet. Access to the internet is one of freedom’s material preconditions. It is one of the resources that people need in order to rule themselves. A system that allocates this resource solely according to the logic of profit is incapable of providing it to everyone as a matter of right. (Location 543)

New highlights added April 30, 2023 at 12:10 PM

  • This makes capitalists a peculiar kind of ruling class. They rule, but not completely, since they are in turn ruled by a higher power—“an inhuman power [that] rules over everything,” to borrow a phrase from the young Karl Marx. It is inhuman because it is not the rule of a person but of an imperative: the imperative to accumulate. This decree is absolute. No capitalist, no matter how powerful, can disobey it. If they do, they cease to be a capitalist: accumulation halts, and the competition puts them out of business. (Location 565)
  • This participation is quite direct, as the people responsible for building and maintaining the network are residents of the neighborhoods themselves, trained by DCTP and its partner organizations to serve as “digital stewards.” Digital stewards do everything from installing wireless dishes and configuring routers to explaining how different technologies work and how to use them, especially to elderly neighbors who have little experience with the internet. But digital stewards aren’t just technicians. They are also trained to be community organizers. They receive both a technical and a political education, with a curriculum that draws on the work of revolutionary thinkers like Paulo Freire and Grace Lee Boggs. This points to the deeper purpose of the project, which is to increase not just the connectivity of Detroit’s poorer neighborhoods, but their connectedness. “We are working towards a future where neighbors are authentically connected,” read the Working Principles of the Equitable Internet Initiative, “with relationships of mutual aid that sustain the social, economic, and environmental health of neighborhoods.” (Location 654)
  • Privatization does not just describe the political process whereby the internet became a business, but a social process whereby people’s mode of interacting with the internet was engineered for business’s benefit. Passive and isolated consumers are the profitable end point of this process: a collection of atomized individuals, alone with our glowing screens. The organizers in Detroit are proposing another possibility. They are building a network that brings people into new relationships of trust and support and mutual concern, forged in the course of caring for collective infrastructure and caring for one another. The users of this network are neither passive nor isolated. They are active participants in the growth, maintenance, and governance of their infrastructure, and members of a collectivity. (Location 672)
  • Self- determination in the digital sphere, and the solidarities it generates, offers a point of departure for achieving self- determination in all fields of social life. (Location 680)

New highlights added May 2, 2023 at 12:13 AM

  • These relationships wouldn’t have to be limited to community networks; in fact, they could buttress an entire ecosystem of new economic organizations. This is the idea behind what thinkers Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill call “community wealth building”: a strategy for increasing “democratic collective ownership of the local economy” by tapping the procurement budgets of public and quasi-public “anchor institutions.” As a model, they point to the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, a cluster of worker-owned cooperatives including a laundry, a greenhouse, and a solar energy company that count two major medical centers, a university, and the city government among their clients. Another source of inspiration is Preston, a city in the United Kingdom that has undertaken a similar, if more extensive, set of experiments. (Location 760)
  • We can’t transform the internet purely at the local level. This is because the internet is neither local nor national nor global but a complex combination of all three. It operates at a number of different scales, and so must any project to transform it. (Location 789)
  • As Wendy Brown explains, neoliberalism “configures human beings exhaustively as market actors, always, only, and everywhere as homo oeconomicus.” Yet there is another way to think about what it means to be human: Homo politicus. This is the human being as a political animal: what Aristotle had in mind when he wrote that man is “by nature an animal intended to live in a polis.” Homo politicus exercises power not indirectly and individually, as an isolated stream of market signals, but directly and collectively, as the co-legislator of its social world. People argue, debate, deliberate, and decide how to govern themselves together. Homo politicus is what makes democracy possible. (Location 899)
  • Drawing on the state to make the internet’s pipes more democratic requires making a different kind of state: one that “is rooted in, constantly draws energy from, and is pushed actively by, popular forces,” in the words of Stuart Hall. (Location 932)

New highlights added May 29, 2023 at 5:33 PM

  • But the smallness and slowness of the early web also lent it a certain charm. It remained a very personal place. People were excited to be there, despite there being relatively little for them to do. They made homepages simply to say hello, to post pictures of their pets, to share their enthusiasm for Star Trek. They wanted to connect. (Location 965)
  • “This grand hope depends on your active participation,” he wrote. The value of AuctionWeb would rely on the contributions of its users. The more they contributed, the more useful the site would be. The market would be a community, a place made by its members. They would become both consumers and producers, as Omidyar hoped, and among the things they produced would be the content that filled the site. (Location 984)
  • As the scholar Tarleton Gillespie argues, this slippage is strategic. By calling their services “platforms,” companies like Google can project an aura of openness and neutrality. They can present themselves as playing a supporting role, merely facilitating the interactions of others. Their sovereignty over the spaces of our digital life, and their active role in ordering such spaces, is obscured. (Location 997)
  • The internet of the mid-to-late 1990s was under private ownership, but it had not yet been optimized for profit. It retained too much of its old shape, and its old shape wasn’t conducive to the new demands being placed on it. Formal subsumption had been achieved, in other words, but real subsumption remained elusive. (Location 1038)
    • Note: so how do we reverse this subsumption? or subsume it back to the people rather than for profit or capital?
  • eBay enlisted its users in its own creation. The site didn’t just offer a space for their activities—it was constituted by them. They were the ones posting items for sale and placing bids and writing feedback on one another in the forum. Without their contributions, the site would cease to exist. (Location 1044)
  • Email was more than just a useful tool, though; it represented a kind of spiritual transformation. Email helped humanize the internet. It made a cold assemblage of cables and computers feel inhabited. (Location 1056)
  • eBay, by contrast, would be firmly rooted in this fact. From its first days as AuctionWeb, the site described itself as a community, and this self- definition became integral to its identity and to its operation. For Omidyar, the point wasn’t to defend the community from the market but rather to recast the community as a market—to fuse the two. (Location 1066)
    • Note: how can we split this libertarian-imposed notion of market and community and instead join community with a gift and solidarity economy? how can the internet become a tool for people to wield?
  • both the benefits of being a middleman and those associated with network effects required a third factor as their enabling condition: a certain kind of sovereignty. The site didn’t just facilitate interactions; it shaped them. It wrote the rules for how people could interact and designed the spaces where they did so. It was not only an intermediary but a legislator and an architect. (Location 1089)
  • This laissez-faire approach broke down pretty quickly, however. Contrary to libertarian assumptions, the market couldn’t function without something like a state. The feedback forum is a good example: users started manipulating it, leaving praise for their friends and sending mobs of malicious reviewers after their enemies. (Location 1095)
  • Preserving and increasing profitability required managing people’s behavior, whether through the code that steered them through the site or the user agreements that governed their activities on it. (Location 1100)
  • As Gruen’s invention caught on, the grander parts of his vision would fall away. But the idea of an engineered environment that paired commerce with a public square remained. Gruen’s legacy would be a kind of capitalist terrarium, nicely captured by the phrase “privately owned public space.” The shopping malls of the internet are nothing if not privately owned public spaces. They are corporate enclosures with a wide range of interactions transpiring inside of them. Just like in a real mall, some of these interactions are commercial, such as buying clothes from a merchant, while others are social, such as hanging out with friends. (Location 1122)
  • Data is sometimes compared to oil, but a better analogy might be coal. Coal was the fuel that powered the steam engine. It propelled the capitalist reorganization of manufacturing from an artisanal to an industrial basis, from the workshop to the factory, in the nineteenth century. Data has played a comparable role. It has propelled the capitalist reorganization of the internet, banishing the remnants of the research network and perfecting the profit engine. (Location 1138)
  • In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff describes this moment as a turning point not only in the history of Google but in the history of capitalism. In her view, the discovery of “behavioral surplus”—a trove of user data so rich and plentiful that it could be put to work selling ads and not just improving search—gave birth to a new economic logic called “surveillance capitalism.” “Google had discovered a way to translate its nonmarket interactions with users into surplus raw material for the fabrication of products aimed at genuine market transactions with its real customers: advertisers,” she writes. “The corporation thus created out of thin air and at zero marginal cost an asset class of vital raw materials derived from users’ nonmarket online behavior.” (Location 1196)

New highlights added May 31, 2023 at 9:33 PM

  • The power of the social media mall thus rests on a strange kind of sovereignty: the sort that pretends it doesn’t exist. (Location 1246)
  • In the post-dot-com period, as firms began to find more promising paths to profitability, they also made the internet more complex. The simple static web page faded from view. In its place came the dynamic and interactive web application, designed to seize a user’s attention and stimulate their engagement, linked to elaborate subterranean systems of data collection and analysis. (Location 1337)
    • Note: this overlooks the flip-side of wanting to create a complex app just for fun. why cant we not create for capital anymore?
  • “Computing may someday be organized as a public utility,” declared MIT computer scientist John McCarthy in 1961. A few years later, his business school colleague Martin Greenberger imagined an “information utility” that supplied computing on tap in much the same way as the power utility supplied electricity. In a slightly different mode, the desire to share computing resources through a network inspired both the making of ARPANET in the 1960s and the making of the internet in the 1970s. The goal of the internet, after all, was to stretch computation over not just one network but several: to make a global network of networks that let the soldier in the field run a program on a mainframe on the other side of the planet. This is the aspiration that, decades later, found its fulfillment in the creation of the modern cloud. (Location 1352)
  • Far from the mothership, the developers assembled something that looked a lot like the information utility prophesied by the experts of the 1960s. They did so by drawing on a technique dating from the same period: virtualization. Virtualization is the art of tricking a computer into believing a simulated resource is real. This resource might be a hard drive or a whole computer. Either way, it is treated as if it were the genuine article—you might not be able to touch a virtual hard drive, but your computer can’t tell the difference. (Location 1388)
  • the 1980s, the internet went from being a protocol to a place. In the 1990s and 2000s, that place grew massively. In the 2010s, it became a different kind of place altogether. It cut its tether, losing its anchorage in a fixed point. It became fluid, ubiquitous, diffuse. The internet was no longer something people logged onto but something that was always on: fastened to your hand or wrist or pocket, woven through homes and workplaces and cities. “Smartness” came to saturate the spaces of everyday life. (Location 1427)
  • What if this universality became ubiquitous? What if machines that could do everything—or at least any computable task—were everywhere? If the computer is an everything machine, what happens when it becomes an everywhere machine? Sun Microsystems once had a slogan, credited to chief scientist John Gage: The network is the computer. The phrase has become infinitely truer than it was when it was first coined in the 1980s. The network is the computer, and the computer is everywhere. (Location 1440)
  • The proliferation of “smartness” is aimed at making digital surveillance as deeply integrated into our physical world as it is in our virtual one. By putting internet- connected devices in more places, companies can put more of our lives online, which means more data about our lives can be manufactured. (Location 1452)
  • The major online malls have been central participants in, and beneficiaries of, the diffusion of the internet. Smartphones’ geolocation data lets Google and Facebook promise more precise forms of targeting to advertisers. The Echo “smart speaker” lets Amazon learn more about its customers by placing listening devices in their living rooms. If the fiber-optic cables that traverse oceans and continents are the internet’s arteries, these are its capillaries. They convey data through passages narrow and numerous enough to permeate nearly everything. (Location 1459)
  • The shipping container made it cheaper to transport goods by streamlining and mechanizing what had formerly been a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, and this in turn enabled companies to farm out their manufacturing operations to subcontractors in whatever parts of the world goods could be most cheaply produced. And what the shipping container has done to much blue-collar work, the internet has done to much white-collar work. (Location 1525)
  • The goal is a world where labor power can be conjured as painlessly as computing power, scaled to meet demand, and then discarded—a human cloud of virtual machines in which the virtual machines are people. (Location 1541)
  • Even so, a common theme can be detected. Online malls, whatever their particular entanglements, are inequality machines. More specifically, they reallocate the existing distribution of risk and reward. They push risks downward and spread them around. They pull rewards upward and focus them in fewer hands. (Location 1672)
  • Predatory inclusion, argues the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom, is one of the dynamics that define the political economy of the internet. She describes it as “the logic, organization, and technique of including marginalized consumer-citizens into ostensibly democratizing mobility schemes on extractive terms.” What does this mean in practice? Cottom gives the example of online colleges. Online colleges are disproportionately attended by Black women, who take on large student loans they often struggle to pay off. The inclusion of a historically excluded group is achieved, but on predatory terms. (Location 1710)
  • The internet, by enabling firms to distribute work while retaining control over the distributed workers, has helped absorb more layers of humanity into the wage relation. But this is accomplished in such a way that reinscribes the prior exclusions. The livelihoods on offer are meager and menial, not to mention highly insecure. The excluded are included, but only on the condition that they absorb most of the risk and forfeit most of the reward. (Location 1718)
  • This is what cybertyping looks like in the age of the online mall. And it follows a familiar logic: the logic of predatory inclusion. On the one hand, Google appears to offer a richer informational milieu than print, television, or film. You can search for nearly any subject and find websites related to it. This means that groups that have traditionally been under-represented in media can be amply, even abundantly represented. Yet this greater inclusivity is often achieved in such a way that reiterates the original exclusions. Black women might be more visible in a Google search, but this increased visibility is filtered through stereotypes that have long circulated in older media, such as the perception of Black women as hypersexual and unprofessional. (Location 1764)
  • The online malls of social media are collections of technical artifacts—algorithms, servers—that are entangled with collections of social artifacts—laws, markets, ideologies—through which they act on the world. One way to visualize the sum total of these relationships is, to follow a suggestion from the philosopher Félix Guattari, to see them ecologically. Ecosystems are full of feedback loops, cycles, and flows; organisms are ceaselessly interacting with one another and with the nonliving. Explaining how something happens within an ecosystem—the death and decomposition of an organism, say—requires examining the many interactions that have coincided to produce it. Something similar is required to explain how right-wing radicalization happens online. The internet is part of the answer, but only a part. (Location 1867)
  • Online malls are not inequality machines purely on account of their effects, however. Even if, miraculously, they stopped generating these effects—this is a thought experiment, not an actual possibility—a fundamental inequality would remain. Corporations would still own the internet. Immensely consequential decisions would be left in the hands of executives and investors, and these decisions would in turn be bound by the mandates of the market. Most people would have no say in the matters that centrally affect their lives. A privatized internet will always amount to the rule of the many by the few, and the rule of those few by an imperative that is hard-wired into capitalism: the imperative to accumulate. (Location 1981)
  • Deprivatization opens the door to a different kind of internet. Just as community networks are challenging the legacy of privatization down the stack, a similar approach can be applied up the stack. The internet reformers want to make online malls into more responsible stewards of our digital sphere. A more realistic response, if one hopes to reach the root of the problem, is to abolish them. (Location 1989)
  • We can imagine something similar happening to the online equivalents. What’s important is the pluralism of this picture. Down the stack, the community network is the main character in the making of a democratic internet. Up the stack, it’s not quite so straightforward. There is no main character. The greater diversity of forms one encounters at this altitude, the distinctness of the different online malls and their entanglements, requires a greater range of approaches. (Location 1995)
  • To have more to say, we need more experiments. The goal of these experiments shouldn’t be a one-to-one replacement of each online mall with its deprivatized doppelganger. You can’t simply clone Facebook, place it under public or cooperative ownership, and expect substantially different results. Online malls organize online life through a particular architecture, and that architecture makes certain choices for us. To make new choices—to create spaces where we can make those choices collectively—we need new architectures. (Location 2001)
  • It turns out that the thinker whose ideas are best suited for building a better internet is not Louis Brandeis but Angela Davis. For decades, Davis and other abolitionists have argued that police and prisons can’t be reformed. Rather, they are so dehumanizing and so incriminated in the reproduction of race and class hierarchies that they must be eliminated altogether. (Location 2005)
  • Davis and her abolitionist colleagues give us the basic blueprint for deprivatizing the upper floors of the internet. On the one hand, we can work to erode the power of the online malls. The anti-monopoly toolkit—breaking up tech giants, banning mergers and acquisitions, and other New Brandeisian methods—is valuable here. On the other hand, we can create a constellation of alternatives that, to use Davis’s phrase, “lay claim to the space” that online malls currently occupy. The former tactic is designed to open cracks in the enclosures. The latter tactic aims at seeding those cracks with all manner of invasive species. (Location 2017)
  • Protocolize the Walled Gardens Abolishing the online malls requires, above all, imagination. Not imagination in the singular but in the plural: imagination as an embodied, collective process of experimentation. This demands looking at technology differently. We must move away from “technology as an outcome to toolmaking as a practice,” in the words of sociologist Ruha Benjamin. Technology ceases to be something that is done to people, and becomes something they do together. (Location 2026)
  • Instead of Facebook, imagine millions of social media communities, each with their own rules and customs and cultures. This is the vision of media scholar Ethan Zuckerman. These communities would be “plural in purpose”: they would host different kinds of interactions. “Pool halls, libraries, and churches are all public spaces, but they all have different purposes, norms, and affordances,” Zuckerman notes. There is no reason our online spaces can’t have the same diversity. (Location 2033)
  • But bigness “makes true participatory governance difficult, if not impossible,” argues Zuckerman. “A ‘community’ of a billion people who have nothing in common but their use of a media platform is not a community in any meaningful sense.” This brings us to another virtue of decentralization: not only does it facilitate greater diversity, it also enables a degree of democracy. At a small enough scale, social media communities can become self- governing. Instead of letting tech executives decide how filtering algorithms work or how content is moderated—behind closed doors and bound by the market—users can make their own choices, and those choices can be guided by considerations other than profit. (Location 2039)
  • Privatization has pushed things in the opposite direction: online life increasingly takes place within monolithic enclosures where interactions are governed by secret and proprietary algorithms. “Protocolizing” social media would break the walls of these walled gardens, and turn them inside out. (Location 2054)
  • The United States has more than nine thousand public libraries. What if each one “had a federated social media server, and anybody with a library card could have an account?” asks the programmer Darius Kazemi. Piggybacking on existing public infrastructure is an excellent way to make new online spaces more accessible, and fasten them to a funding source. Using local libraries also adds a measure of accountability. “If your administrator is an employee of your local library, then there’s a door you can go knock on,” says Kazemi. “I can’t go knock on Mark Zuckerberg’s door and complain about something, but I can do that at the local library.” (Location 2061)
  • Libraries have a further advantage: they are full of librarians. Librarians are the original information workers. They retrieve, classify, curate, and contextualize information, and they do so not for profit, but as a public service. This is a service that is sorely needed in online spaces. (Location 2066)
  • He also suggests turning public libraries and post offices into “community media centers” that could help make local residents into local reporters. (Location 2082)
  • Another way to think of these interventions is as investments in care. The scholar Lindsay Bartkowski argues that content moderation is best understood as a form of care work and, like other forms of care work, is systematically under-valued. (Location 2088)
  • Any project to improve social media must make such workers more valued and more visible, and enable them to form what Bartkowski calls “affinities and solidarities” with the users whose communities they care for. (Location 2097)
  • Still, a decentralized social media would be better designed to mitigate it. When the fascist social networking site Gab migrated to Mastodon, most of the servers that make up the Fediverse responded by blocking Gab. Because Mastodon is open-source, fascists are free to use it, but their communities can be quarantined. Decentralized social media moves “decision making out to the ends of the network, rather than keeping it centralized among a small group of very powerful companies,” explains writer Mike Masnick. Some ends of the network may be populated by toxic elements. But with no single set of algorithms and executives to manipulate and intimidate, at least they can be denied a wider hearing. (Location 2101)
  • Nick Srnicek imagines a publicly owned cloud service that “ensures privacy, security, energy efficiency and equal access for all.” Such a service might be carved out of a corporate provider like Amazon Web Services, which could be required to donate a portion of its capacity. Picture a “public lane” for the cloud, serving the digital infrastructure needs of a growing deprivatized sector. (Location 2107)
  • it. To be effective, these methods must follow legal scholar Salomé Viljoen’s admonition to look beyond the common tendency to see data production in personal terms and recognize its collective character. (Location 2124)
  • Crucially, the ownership of data would be separated from its processing: users could determine under what conditions an online service would have access to their data, and under what conditions more data could be manufactured. (Location 2134)
  • An interesting model for doing so comes from 1980s London. In 1981, the left wing of the Labour Party won control of the Greater London Council (GLC), a municipal administrative body, and embarked on an ambitious economic program. At the time, London had high unemployment, in large part due to deindustrialization. The GLC responded by investing public money in unionized firms, as well as encouraging the creation of worker-owned cooperatives. It also established five “Technology Networks” in different locations across the city. These were prototyping workshops, similar to “makerspaces” or “hackerspaces” today. People could walk in, get access to machine tools, receive training and technical assistance, and build things. The designs for the things they built went into a shared “product bank” that other people could draw from, and which were licensed for a fee to for-profit firms to help finance the Networks. The innovations that emerged included wind turbines, disability devices, children’s toys, and electric bikes. Energy efficiency was an area of special emphasis. The Networks themselves were governed by a mix of local residents, trade unionists, tenant organizers, and academics. One purpose of these spaces was to democratize the design and development of technology. This meant creating a participatory process whereby working-class communities could obtain the tools and the expertise they needed to make their own technologies. It meant producing to satisfy human need—what organizers at the time called “socially useful production”—rather than to maximize profit. (Location 2149)
  • large numbers of people could contribute to the imaginative work of remaking the upper floors of the internet. They could team up with designers and developers to build alternative online services. Some might be hyperlocal; others might become regional, national, or even international. Some might be informal and volunteer-run; others might be placed under public ownership, or serve as the basis for new cooperatives. For such efforts to be successful, they must blur the line between technology’s creators and its users, and eventually aspire to make the two categories indistinguishable. Expertise would no longer be defined in an exclusively technical sense: some people are experts in programming, others in design, still others in their daily lives. “We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process,” state the principles of the Design Justice Network, an organization committed to developing more democratic design practices. An internet ruled by the people is one where people directly participate in the making of the internet. The scholar Sasha Costanza-Chock, a leading theorist of “design justice,” cites the famous slogan of the disability rights movement: “Nothing about us without us.” (Location 2170)
  • One way to do so is technical. The writer Cory Doctorow talks about “adversarial interoperability,” which describes a situation where one service communicates with another without the latter’s permission, or perhaps only with grudging permission secured through legislation. For example, Face-book could be made to adopt open protocols that enable other social media applications to interconnect. (Location 2189)
  • But going on the offensive is more a political matter than a technical one. Here too the Technology Networks of 1980s London can offer inspiration. They weren’t just places where people built things. They were also organizing spaces. The act of prototyping products in a workshop could serve as a starting point for a broader conversation about what kinds of transformations would be needed to create a more equitable society. In the process of trying to solve their problems with technology, people came to realize that technology often fell short of solving their problems. Politics was needed. Along these lines, one of the Networks kick-started a campaign called “Right to Warmth” that involved organizing community energy efficiency initiatives, creating local energy cooperatives, and pressuring Margaret Thatcher’s government into putting more money toward energy conservation measures. (Location 2197)

New highlights added June 1, 2023 at 10:05 AM

  • Nostalgia never paints a reliable picture of the past. In this case, however, the past isn’t even past. A hundred eulogies later, the open web lives on: the online malls haven’t destroyed it so much as hijacked it. Openness is what lets companies like Google and Facebook sprinkle their software throughout the web—crawlers, trackers, ads—to siphon data back to their servers. Interoperability has been weaponized into intra- operability, argues the scholar Anja Bechmann, serving an “asymmetrical power relationship” that privileges a few “data hubs and passage points.” This is obviously a different arrangement than the one that prevailed before. But it’s not quite accurate to say that the web was once open and now is closed—rather, it is the open parts of the web that make the closed parts possible. (Location 2219)
  • But nostalgia isn’t supposed to be accurate. That’s not why it sticks. It sticks because it expresses a feeling of loss that is sincerely felt, and this feeling has a reality all its own. At some point, everybody loses the internet they love: the internet of Gopher and Usenet, of Yahoo! and GeoCities, of Friendster and MySpace. Alongside these personal losses, however, is a collective loss: a series of missed opportunities to reimagine the internet. If internet nostalgia is inevitable, perhaps it can be linked to this larger loss, a loss that touches all of us, whether we realize it or not. And perhaps there is a political potential here that can be harvested for a higher end. (Location 2229)
  • But they were also thinkers, and they circulated their thoughts in poems, proclamations, petitions, songs, and letters. On the one hand, they lamented the disintegration of their social world under the advancing hurricane of industrial capitalism. On the other hand, they sketched an image of a new society, one in which “industrial growth should be regulated according to ethical priorities and the pursuit of profit be subordinated to human needs,” writes Thompson. These two moves were connected: as Thompson explains, the Luddites looked backward in order to look forward. They used ancient values in order to invent a different modernity. In their imagined past, they discovered materials with which to imagine a future. (Location 2236)

title: “Internet for the People” author: “Ben Tarnoff” url: "" date: 2023-12-19 source: kindle tags: media/books

Internet for the People

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Highlights

  • MAREA is a reminder that the internet has a body. A body of glass, copper, silicon, and a thousand other things—things that have to be dug out of the earth and hammered into useful shapes, with significant inputs of labor and energy. Bodies are material; they are also historical. If the internet is not a place of pure spirit—a “civilization of the Mind,” as the cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow once called it—neither is it a place untouched by the past. It is entangled with history, and often in quite literal ways. (Location 57)
  • Connectivity is never neutral. The growth of networks was guided by a desire for power and profit. They were not just conduits for conveying information, but mechanisms for forging relationships of control. (Location 70)
  • The internet reformers have some good ideas, but they never quite reach the root of the problem. The root is simple: the internet is broken because the internet is a business. (Location 87)
  • The process of privatization started in the internet’s basement, with the pipes. In the 1990s, the US government gave the private sector a network created at enormous public expense. Corporations took over the internet’s physical infrastructure and made money from selling access to it. But privatization didn’t stop there. The real money didn’t lie in monetizing access, but in monetizing activity—that is, in what people did once they got online. So privatization ascended to the upper floors, to the layer where the internet is experienced. (Location 114)
  • Deprivatization aims at creating an internet where people, and not profit, rule. (Location 131)
  • The internet is fundamentally a language—a set of rules for how computers should communicate. These rules have to strike a very delicate balance. On the one hand, they have to be strict enough to ensure the reliable transmission of data. On the other, they have to be loose enough to accommodate all the different ways that data might be transmitted. Together, these qualities ensure that data can not only go anywhere, but also get there in one piece. (Location 185)
  • The internet was such an unlikely idea that only decades of public funding and planning could bring it into existence. Not only did the basic technology have to be invented, but the infrastructure had to be built, specialists had to be trained, and contractors had to be staffed, funded, and, in some cases, directly spun off from government agencies. The internet is sometimes compared to the interstate highway system, another major public project. But as the activist Nathan Newman points out, the comparison only makes sense if the government “had first imagined the possibility of cars, subsidized the invention of the auto industry, funded the technology of concrete and tar, and built the whole initial system.” (Location 199)
  • The contractors who contributed to ARPANET had to share the source code of their creations. This catalyzed scientific creativity, as researchers from a range of different institutions could refine and expand on each other’s work without living in fear of intellectual property law. (Location 222)
  • The protocol developed by Cerf and Kahn had fulfilled its promise. Eventually, it would evolve into a whole suite of protocols called TCP/IP. Today, TCP/IP is the lingua franca of the internet. It is no exaggeration to say that TCP/IP is the internet: without its rules, the world’s networks would be a Babel of mutually unintelligible tongues. This universality was created with a particular end in mind. The internet was designed to run anywhere because the US military is everywhere. Today, it maintains around eight hundred bases in some eighty-five countries around the world. It has hundreds of ships, thousands of planes, and thousands of tanks. The reason the internet can work across any device, network, and medium is because it needed to be as ubiquitous as the military that financed its creation. It needed to be able to knit together a heterogeneous collection of people and machines into a single network of networks, so that a soldier in a Jeep or a pilot in a B-52 could use a computer thousands of miles away. (Location 260)
  • While the government created the internet, it was users who made it useful, who made it a place worth visiting. (Location 275)
  • The web did not replace the internet; it lived within the internet. But over the course of the 1990s, many newcomers would come to know the internet primarily through the web, to the point where people had trouble distinguishing between the two. (Location 313)
  • Among these was Senator Daniel Inouye, who introduced a bill in 1994 that would have made telecom companies reserve up to 20 percent of their capacity for “public uses.” This capacity would be considered “public property”—the telecoms would have no control over it. And it would be used to offer free access to qualifying organizations, such as libraries, nonprofits, and educational institutions, so long as they provided “educational, informational, cultural, civic, or charitable services directly to the public without charge for such services.” Such organizations would also receive funding to support their ability to provide these services. The idea had been the brainchild of the Telecommunications Policy Roundtable, a coalition of unionized workers, consumer activists, computer professionals, and others who, during the telecom policy debates of Clinton’s first term, offered a lonely counterpoint to the deregulatory enthusiasm of the era by demanding a “public lane on the information superhighway.” (Location 375)
  • “Broadband is like water and electricity now, and yet it’s still being treated like a luxury.” As the pandemic powerfully illustrated, a good internet connection is a necessity. It is a prerequisite for full participation in social, economic, political, and cultural life, and one that many millions of Americans don’t possess. (Location 523)
  • The philosopher John Dewey once observed that individual self- rule has two ingredients. The first is freedom from external coercion or constraint—from “subjection to the will and control of others.” But this kind of freedom—“negative” freedom—is insufficient by itself. For people to rule themselves, they also need “positive” freedom: the freedom to set and pursue ends. And positive freedom requires stuff, or what Dewey calls the “resources necessary to carry purposes into effect.” (Location 532)
  • This power must be rooted in something more robust than the opportunity to choose one’s government representatives every few years. Elections are the minimum of democracy’s meaning. Democracy requires a richer set of practices and a wider sphere of control to be fully democratic. It must, as the theorist Stuart Hall writes, take place not just occasionally and within certain circumscribed zones but “across all the centres of social activity—in private as well as public life, in personal associations as well as in compulsory obligations, in the family and the neighbourhood and the nursery and the shopping centre as well as in the public office or at the point of production.” And, we might add, in the realm of the internet. Access to the internet is one of freedom’s material preconditions. It is one of the resources that people need in order to rule themselves. A system that allocates this resource solely according to the logic of profit is incapable of providing it to everyone as a matter of right. (Location 543)
  • This makes capitalists a peculiar kind of ruling class. They rule, but not completely, since they are in turn ruled by a higher power—“an inhuman power [that] rules over everything,” to borrow a phrase from the young Karl Marx. It is inhuman because it is not the rule of a person but of an imperative: the imperative to accumulate. This decree is absolute. No capitalist, no matter how powerful, can disobey it. If they do, they cease to be a capitalist: accumulation halts, and the competition puts them out of business. (Location 565)
  • This participation is quite direct, as the people responsible for building and maintaining the network are residents of the neighborhoods themselves, trained by DCTP and its partner organizations to serve as “digital stewards.” Digital stewards do everything from installing wireless dishes and configuring routers to explaining how different technologies work and how to use them, especially to elderly neighbors who have little experience with the internet. But digital stewards aren’t just technicians. They are also trained to be community organizers. They receive both a technical and a political education, with a curriculum that draws on the work of revolutionary thinkers like Paulo Freire and Grace Lee Boggs. This points to the deeper purpose of the project, which is to increase not just the connectivity of Detroit’s poorer neighborhoods, but their connectedness. “We are working towards a future where neighbors are authentically connected,” read the Working Principles of the Equitable Internet Initiative, “with relationships of mutual aid that sustain the social, economic, and environmental health of neighborhoods.” (Location 654)
  • Privatization does not just describe the political process whereby the internet became a business, but a social process whereby people’s mode of interacting with the internet was engineered for business’s benefit. Passive and isolated consumers are the profitable end point of this process: a collection of atomized individuals, alone with our glowing screens. The organizers in Detroit are proposing another possibility. They are building a network that brings people into new relationships of trust and support and mutual concern, forged in the course of caring for collective infrastructure and caring for one another. The users of this network are neither passive nor isolated. They are active participants in the growth, maintenance, and governance of their infrastructure, and members of a collectivity. (Location 672)
  • Self- determination in the digital sphere, and the solidarities it generates, offers a point of departure for achieving self- determination in all fields of social life. (Location 680)
  • These relationships wouldn’t have to be limited to community networks; in fact, they could buttress an entire ecosystem of new economic organizations. This is the idea behind what thinkers Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill call “community wealth building”: a strategy for increasing “democratic collective ownership of the local economy” by tapping the procurement budgets of public and quasi-public “anchor institutions.” As a model, they point to the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, a cluster of worker-owned cooperatives including a laundry, a greenhouse, and a solar energy company that count two major medical centers, a university, and the city government among their clients. Another source of inspiration is Preston, a city in the United Kingdom that has undertaken a similar, if more extensive, set of experiments. (Location 760)
  • We can’t transform the internet purely at the local level. This is because the internet is neither local nor national nor global but a complex combination of all three. It operates at a number of different scales, and so must any project to transform it. (Location 789)
  • As Wendy Brown explains, neoliberalism “configures human beings exhaustively as market actors, always, only, and everywhere as homo oeconomicus.” Yet there is another way to think about what it means to be human: Homo politicus. This is the human being as a political animal: what Aristotle had in mind when he wrote that man is “by nature an animal intended to live in a polis.” Homo politicus exercises power not indirectly and individually, as an isolated stream of market signals, but directly and collectively, as the co-legislator of its social world. People argue, debate, deliberate, and decide how to govern themselves together. Homo politicus is what makes democracy possible. (Location 899)
  • Drawing on the state to make the internet’s pipes more democratic requires making a different kind of state: one that “is rooted in, constantly draws energy from, and is pushed actively by, popular forces,” in the words of Stuart Hall. (Location 932)
  • But the smallness and slowness of the early web also lent it a certain charm. It remained a very personal place. People were excited to be there, despite there being relatively little for them to do. They made homepages simply to say hello, to post pictures of their pets, to share their enthusiasm for Star Trek. They wanted to connect. (Location 965)
  • “This grand hope depends on your active participation,” he wrote. The value of AuctionWeb would rely on the contributions of its users. The more they contributed, the more useful the site would be. The market would be a community, a place made by its members. They would become both consumers and producers, as Omidyar hoped, and among the things they produced would be the content that filled the site. (Location 984)
  • As the scholar Tarleton Gillespie argues, this slippage is strategic. By calling their services “platforms,” companies like Google can project an aura of openness and neutrality. They can present themselves as playing a supporting role, merely facilitating the interactions of others. Their sovereignty over the spaces of our digital life, and their active role in ordering such spaces, is obscured. (Location 997)
  • The internet of the mid-to-late 1990s was under private ownership, but it had not yet been optimized for profit. It retained too much of its old shape, and its old shape wasn’t conducive to the new demands being placed on it. Formal subsumption had been achieved, in other words, but real subsumption remained elusive. (Location 1038)
    • Note: so how do we reverse this subsumption? or subsume it back to the people rather than for profit or capital?
  • eBay enlisted its users in its own creation. The site didn’t just offer a space for their activities—it was constituted by them. They were the ones posting items for sale and placing bids and writing feedback on one another in the forum. Without their contributions, the site would cease to exist. (Location 1044)
  • Email was more than just a useful tool, though; it represented a kind of spiritual transformation. Email helped humanize the internet. It made a cold assemblage of cables and computers feel inhabited. (Location 1056)
  • eBay, by contrast, would be firmly rooted in this fact. From its first days as AuctionWeb, the site described itself as a community, and this self- definition became integral to its identity and to its operation. For Omidyar, the point wasn’t to defend the community from the market but rather to recast the community as a market—to fuse the two. (Location 1066)
    • Note: how can we split this libertarian-imposed notion of market and community and instead join community with a gift and solidarity economy? how can the internet become a tool for people to wield?
  • both the benefits of being a middleman and those associated with network effects required a third factor as their enabling condition: a certain kind of sovereignty. The site didn’t just facilitate interactions; it shaped them. It wrote the rules for how people could interact and designed the spaces where they did so. It was not only an intermediary but a legislator and an architect. (Location 1089)
  • This laissez-faire approach broke down pretty quickly, however. Contrary to libertarian assumptions, the market couldn’t function without something like a state. The feedback forum is a good example: users started manipulating it, leaving praise for their friends and sending mobs of malicious reviewers after their enemies. (Location 1095)
  • Preserving and increasing profitability required managing people’s behavior, whether through the code that steered them through the site or the user agreements that governed their activities on it. (Location 1100)
  • As Gruen’s invention caught on, the grander parts of his vision would fall away. But the idea of an engineered environment that paired commerce with a public square remained. Gruen’s legacy would be a kind of capitalist terrarium, nicely captured by the phrase “privately owned public space.” The shopping malls of the internet are nothing if not privately owned public spaces. They are corporate enclosures with a wide range of interactions transpiring inside of them. Just like in a real mall, some of these interactions are commercial, such as buying clothes from a merchant, while others are social, such as hanging out with friends. (Location 1122)
  • Data is sometimes compared to oil, but a better analogy might be coal. Coal was the fuel that powered the steam engine. It propelled the capitalist reorganization of manufacturing from an artisanal to an industrial basis, from the workshop to the factory, in the nineteenth century. Data has played a comparable role. It has propelled the capitalist reorganization of the internet, banishing the remnants of the research network and perfecting the profit engine. (Location 1138)
  • In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff describes this moment as a turning point not only in the history of Google but in the history of capitalism. In her view, the discovery of “behavioral surplus”—a trove of user data so rich and plentiful that it could be put to work selling ads and not just improving search—gave birth to a new economic logic called “surveillance capitalism.” “Google had discovered a way to translate its nonmarket interactions with users into surplus raw material for the fabrication of products aimed at genuine market transactions with its real customers: advertisers,” she writes. “The corporation thus created out of thin air and at zero marginal cost an asset class of vital raw materials derived from users’ nonmarket online behavior.” (Location 1196)
  • The power of the social media mall thus rests on a strange kind of sovereignty: the sort that pretends it doesn’t exist. (Location 1246)
  • In the post-dot-com period, as firms began to find more promising paths to profitability, they also made the internet more complex. The simple static web page faded from view. In its place came the dynamic and interactive web application, designed to seize a user’s attention and stimulate their engagement, linked to elaborate subterranean systems of data collection and analysis. (Location 1337)
    • Note: this overlooks the flip-side of wanting to create a complex app just for fun. why cant we not create for capital anymore?
  • “Computing may someday be organized as a public utility,” declared MIT computer scientist John McCarthy in 1961. A few years later, his business school colleague Martin Greenberger imagined an “information utility” that supplied computing on tap in much the same way as the power utility supplied electricity. In a slightly different mode, the desire to share computing resources through a network inspired both the making of ARPANET in the 1960s and the making of the internet in the 1970s. The goal of the internet, after all, was to stretch computation over not just one network but several: to make a global network of networks that let the soldier in the field run a program on a mainframe on the other side of the planet. This is the aspiration that, decades later, found its fulfillment in the creation of the modern cloud. (Location 1352)
  • Far from the mothership, the developers assembled something that looked a lot like the information utility prophesied by the experts of the 1960s. They did so by drawing on a technique dating from the same period: virtualization. Virtualization is the art of tricking a computer into believing a simulated resource is real. This resource might be a hard drive or a whole computer. Either way, it is treated as if it were the genuine article—you might not be able to touch a virtual hard drive, but your computer can’t tell the difference. (Location 1388)
  • the 1980s, the internet went from being a protocol to a place. In the 1990s and 2000s, that place grew massively. In the 2010s, it became a different kind of place altogether. It cut its tether, losing its anchorage in a fixed point. It became fluid, ubiquitous, diffuse. The internet was no longer something people logged onto but something that was always on: fastened to your hand or wrist or pocket, woven through homes and workplaces and cities. “Smartness” came to saturate the spaces of everyday life. (Location 1427)
  • What if this universality became ubiquitous? What if machines that could do everything—or at least any computable task—were everywhere? If the computer is an everything machine, what happens when it becomes an everywhere machine? Sun Microsystems once had a slogan, credited to chief scientist John Gage: The network is the computer. The phrase has become infinitely truer than it was when it was first coined in the 1980s. The network is the computer, and the computer is everywhere. (Location 1440)
  • The proliferation of “smartness” is aimed at making digital surveillance as deeply integrated into our physical world as it is in our virtual one. By putting internet- connected devices in more places, companies can put more of our lives online, which means more data about our lives can be manufactured. (Location 1452)
  • The major online malls have been central participants in, and beneficiaries of, the diffusion of the internet. Smartphones’ geolocation data lets Google and Facebook promise more precise forms of targeting to advertisers. The Echo “smart speaker” lets Amazon learn more about its customers by placing listening devices in their living rooms. If the fiber-optic cables that traverse oceans and continents are the internet’s arteries, these are its capillaries. They convey data through passages narrow and numerous enough to permeate nearly everything. (Location 1459)
  • The shipping container made it cheaper to transport goods by streamlining and mechanizing what had formerly been a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, and this in turn enabled companies to farm out their manufacturing operations to subcontractors in whatever parts of the world goods could be most cheaply produced. And what the shipping container has done to much blue-collar work, the internet has done to much white-collar work. (Location 1525)
  • The goal is a world where labor power can be conjured as painlessly as computing power, scaled to meet demand, and then discarded—a human cloud of virtual machines in which the virtual machines are people. (Location 1541)
  • Even so, a common theme can be detected. Online malls, whatever their particular entanglements, are inequality machines. More specifically, they reallocate the existing distribution of risk and reward. They push risks downward and spread them around. They pull rewards upward and focus them in fewer hands. (Location 1672)
  • Predatory inclusion, argues the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom, is one of the dynamics that define the political economy of the internet. She describes it as “the logic, organization, and technique of including marginalized consumer-citizens into ostensibly democratizing mobility schemes on extractive terms.” What does this mean in practice? Cottom gives the example of online colleges. Online colleges are disproportionately attended by Black women, who take on large student loans they often struggle to pay off. The inclusion of a historically excluded group is achieved, but on predatory terms. (Location 1710)
  • The internet, by enabling firms to distribute work while retaining control over the distributed workers, has helped absorb more layers of humanity into the wage relation. But this is accomplished in such a way that reinscribes the prior exclusions. The livelihoods on offer are meager and menial, not to mention highly insecure. The excluded are included, but only on the condition that they absorb most of the risk and forfeit most of the reward. (Location 1718)
  • This is what cybertyping looks like in the age of the online mall. And it follows a familiar logic: the logic of predatory inclusion. On the one hand, Google appears to offer a richer informational milieu than print, television, or film. You can search for nearly any subject and find websites related to it. This means that groups that have traditionally been under-represented in media can be amply, even abundantly represented. Yet this greater inclusivity is often achieved in such a way that reiterates the original exclusions. Black women might be more visible in a Google search, but this increased visibility is filtered through stereotypes that have long circulated in older media, such as the perception of Black women as hypersexual and unprofessional. (Location 1764)
  • The online malls of social media are collections of technical artifacts—algorithms, servers—that are entangled with collections of social artifacts—laws, markets, ideologies—through which they act on the world. One way to visualize the sum total of these relationships is, to follow a suggestion from the philosopher Félix Guattari, to see them ecologically. Ecosystems are full of feedback loops, cycles, and flows; organisms are ceaselessly interacting with one another and with the nonliving. Explaining how something happens within an ecosystem—the death and decomposition of an organism, say—requires examining the many interactions that have coincided to produce it. Something similar is required to explain how right-wing radicalization happens online. The internet is part of the answer, but only a part. (Location 1867)
  • Online malls are not inequality machines purely on account of their effects, however. Even if, miraculously, they stopped generating these effects—this is a thought experiment, not an actual possibility—a fundamental inequality would remain. Corporations would still own the internet. Immensely consequential decisions would be left in the hands of executives and investors, and these decisions would in turn be bound by the mandates of the market. Most people would have no say in the matters that centrally affect their lives. A privatized internet will always amount to the rule of the many by the few, and the rule of those few by an imperative that is hard-wired into capitalism: the imperative to accumulate. (Location 1981)
  • Deprivatization opens the door to a different kind of internet. Just as community networks are challenging the legacy of privatization down the stack, a similar approach can be applied up the stack. The internet reformers want to make online malls into more responsible stewards of our digital sphere. A more realistic response, if one hopes to reach the root of the problem, is to abolish them. (Location 1989)
  • We can imagine something similar happening to the online equivalents. What’s important is the pluralism of this picture. Down the stack, the community network is the main character in the making of a democratic internet. Up the stack, it’s not quite so straightforward. There is no main character. The greater diversity of forms one encounters at this altitude, the distinctness of the different online malls and their entanglements, requires a greater range of approaches. (Location 1995)
  • To have more to say, we need more experiments. The goal of these experiments shouldn’t be a one-to-one replacement of each online mall with its deprivatized doppelganger. You can’t simply clone Facebook, place it under public or cooperative ownership, and expect substantially different results. Online malls organize online life through a particular architecture, and that architecture makes certain choices for us. To make new choices—to create spaces where we can make those choices collectively—we need new architectures. (Location 2001)
  • It turns out that the thinker whose ideas are best suited for building a better internet is not Louis Brandeis but Angela Davis. For decades, Davis and other abolitionists have argued that police and prisons can’t be reformed. Rather, they are so dehumanizing and so incriminated in the reproduction of race and class hierarchies that they must be eliminated altogether. (Location 2005)
  • Davis and her abolitionist colleagues give us the basic blueprint for deprivatizing the upper floors of the internet. On the one hand, we can work to erode the power of the online malls. The anti-monopoly toolkit—breaking up tech giants, banning mergers and acquisitions, and other New Brandeisian methods—is valuable here. On the other hand, we can create a constellation of alternatives that, to use Davis’s phrase, “lay claim to the space” that online malls currently occupy. The former tactic is designed to open cracks in the enclosures. The latter tactic aims at seeding those cracks with all manner of invasive species. (Location 2017)
  • Protocolize the Walled Gardens Abolishing the online malls requires, above all, imagination. Not imagination in the singular but in the plural: imagination as an embodied, collective process of experimentation. This demands looking at technology differently. We must move away from “technology as an outcome to toolmaking as a practice,” in the words of sociologist Ruha Benjamin. Technology ceases to be something that is done to people, and becomes something they do together. (Location 2026)
  • Instead of Facebook, imagine millions of social media communities, each with their own rules and customs and cultures. This is the vision of media scholar Ethan Zuckerman. These communities would be “plural in purpose”: they would host different kinds of interactions. “Pool halls, libraries, and churches are all public spaces, but they all have different purposes, norms, and affordances,” Zuckerman notes. There is no reason our online spaces can’t have the same diversity. (Location 2033)
  • But bigness “makes true participatory governance difficult, if not impossible,” argues Zuckerman. “A ‘community’ of a billion people who have nothing in common but their use of a media platform is not a community in any meaningful sense.” This brings us to another virtue of decentralization: not only does it facilitate greater diversity, it also enables a degree of democracy. At a small enough scale, social media communities can become self- governing. Instead of letting tech executives decide how filtering algorithms work or how content is moderated—behind closed doors and bound by the market—users can make their own choices, and those choices can be guided by considerations other than profit. (Location 2039)
  • Privatization has pushed things in the opposite direction: online life increasingly takes place within monolithic enclosures where interactions are governed by secret and proprietary algorithms. “Protocolizing” social media would break the walls of these walled gardens, and turn them inside out. (Location 2054)
  • The United States has more than nine thousand public libraries. What if each one “had a federated social media server, and anybody with a library card could have an account?” asks the programmer Darius Kazemi. Piggybacking on existing public infrastructure is an excellent way to make new online spaces more accessible, and fasten them to a funding source. Using local libraries also adds a measure of accountability. “If your administrator is an employee of your local library, then there’s a door you can go knock on,” says Kazemi. “I can’t go knock on Mark Zuckerberg’s door and complain about something, but I can do that at the local library.” (Location 2061)
  • Libraries have a further advantage: they are full of librarians. Librarians are the original information workers. They retrieve, classify, curate, and contextualize information, and they do so not for profit, but as a public service. This is a service that is sorely needed in online spaces. (Location 2066)
  • He also suggests turning public libraries and post offices into “community media centers” that could help make local residents into local reporters. (Location 2082)
  • Another way to think of these interventions is as investments in care. The scholar Lindsay Bartkowski argues that content moderation is best understood as a form of care work and, like other forms of care work, is systematically under-valued. (Location 2088)
  • Any project to improve social media must make such workers more valued and more visible, and enable them to form what Bartkowski calls “affinities and solidarities” with the users whose communities they care for. (Location 2097)
  • Still, a decentralized social media would be better designed to mitigate it. When the fascist social networking site Gab migrated to Mastodon, most of the servers that make up the Fediverse responded by blocking Gab. Because Mastodon is open-source, fascists are free to use it, but their communities can be quarantined. Decentralized social media moves “decision making out to the ends of the network, rather than keeping it centralized among a small group of very powerful companies,” explains writer Mike Masnick. Some ends of the network may be populated by toxic elements. But with no single set of algorithms and executives to manipulate and intimidate, at least they can be denied a wider hearing. (Location 2101)
  • Nick Srnicek imagines a publicly owned cloud service that “ensures privacy, security, energy efficiency and equal access for all.” Such a service might be carved out of a corporate provider like Amazon Web Services, which could be required to donate a portion of its capacity. Picture a “public lane” for the cloud, serving the digital infrastructure needs of a growing deprivatized sector. (Location 2107)
  • it. To be effective, these methods must follow legal scholar Salomé Viljoen’s admonition to look beyond the common tendency to see data production in personal terms and recognize its collective character. (Location 2124)
  • Crucially, the ownership of data would be separated from its processing: users could determine under what conditions an online service would have access to their data, and under what conditions more data could be manufactured. (Location 2134)
  • An interesting model for doing so comes from 1980s London. In 1981, the left wing of the Labour Party won control of the Greater London Council (GLC), a municipal administrative body, and embarked on an ambitious economic program. At the time, London had high unemployment, in large part due to deindustrialization. The GLC responded by investing public money in unionized firms, as well as encouraging the creation of worker-owned cooperatives. It also established five “Technology Networks” in different locations across the city. These were prototyping workshops, similar to “makerspaces” or “hackerspaces” today. People could walk in, get access to machine tools, receive training and technical assistance, and build things. The designs for the things they built went into a shared “product bank” that other people could draw from, and which were licensed for a fee to for-profit firms to help finance the Networks. The innovations that emerged included wind turbines, disability devices, children’s toys, and electric bikes. Energy efficiency was an area of special emphasis. The Networks themselves were governed by a mix of local residents, trade unionists, tenant organizers, and academics. One purpose of these spaces was to democratize the design and development of technology. This meant creating a participatory process whereby working-class communities could obtain the tools and the expertise they needed to make their own technologies. It meant producing to satisfy human need—what organizers at the time called “socially useful production”—rather than to maximize profit. (Location 2149)
  • large numbers of people could contribute to the imaginative work of remaking the upper floors of the internet. They could team up with designers and developers to build alternative online services. Some might be hyperlocal; others might become regional, national, or even international. Some might be informal and volunteer-run; others might be placed under public ownership, or serve as the basis for new cooperatives. For such efforts to be successful, they must blur the line between technology’s creators and its users, and eventually aspire to make the two categories indistinguishable. Expertise would no longer be defined in an exclusively technical sense: some people are experts in programming, others in design, still others in their daily lives. “We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process,” state the principles of the Design Justice Network, an organization committed to developing more democratic design practices. An internet ruled by the people is one where people directly participate in the making of the internet. The scholar Sasha Costanza-Chock, a leading theorist of “design justice,” cites the famous slogan of the disability rights movement: “Nothing about us without us.” (Location 2170)
  • One way to do so is technical. The writer Cory Doctorow talks about “adversarial interoperability,” which describes a situation where one service communicates with another without the latter’s permission, or perhaps only with grudging permission secured through legislation. For example, Face-book could be made to adopt open protocols that enable other social media applications to interconnect. (Location 2189)
  • But going on the offensive is more a political matter than a technical one. Here too the Technology Networks of 1980s London can offer inspiration. They weren’t just places where people built things. They were also organizing spaces. The act of prototyping products in a workshop could serve as a starting point for a broader conversation about what kinds of transformations would be needed to create a more equitable society. In the process of trying to solve their problems with technology, people came to realize that technology often fell short of solving their problems. Politics was needed. Along these lines, one of the Networks kick-started a campaign called “Right to Warmth” that involved organizing community energy efficiency initiatives, creating local energy cooperatives, and pressuring Margaret Thatcher’s government into putting more money toward energy conservation measures. (Location 2197)
  • Nostalgia never paints a reliable picture of the past. In this case, however, the past isn’t even past. A hundred eulogies later, the open web lives on: the online malls haven’t destroyed it so much as hijacked it. Openness is what lets companies like Google and Facebook sprinkle their software throughout the web—crawlers, trackers, ads—to siphon data back to their servers. Interoperability has been weaponized into intra- operability, argues the scholar Anja Bechmann, serving an “asymmetrical power relationship” that privileges a few “data hubs and passage points.” This is obviously a different arrangement than the one that prevailed before. But it’s not quite accurate to say that the web was once open and now is closed—rather, it is the open parts of the web that make the closed parts possible. (Location 2219)
  • But nostalgia isn’t supposed to be accurate. That’s not why it sticks. It sticks because it expresses a feeling of loss that is sincerely felt, and this feeling has a reality all its own. At some point, everybody loses the internet they love: the internet of Gopher and Usenet, of Yahoo! and GeoCities, of Friendster and MySpace. Alongside these personal losses, however, is a collective loss: a series of missed opportunities to reimagine the internet. If internet nostalgia is inevitable, perhaps it can be linked to this larger loss, a loss that touches all of us, whether we realize it or not. And perhaps there is a political potential here that can be harvested for a higher end. (Location 2229)
  • But they were also thinkers, and they circulated their thoughts in poems, proclamations, petitions, songs, and letters. On the one hand, they lamented the disintegration of their social world under the advancing hurricane of industrial capitalism. On the other hand, they sketched an image of a new society, one in which “industrial growth should be regulated according to ethical priorities and the pursuit of profit be subordinated to human needs,” writes Thompson. These two moves were connected: as Thompson explains, the Luddites looked backward in order to look forward. They used ancient values in order to invent a different modernity. In their imagined past, they discovered materials with which to imagine a future. (Location 2236)