Rethinking the Internet as a public space



It is a common place to speak of the Internet as a public space. In fact, one of the first metaphors used to explain what the internet is to the public was the “agora” or public square.

This vision is undoubtedly attractive and adapted to the ideologies that, since the seventies, consciously or unconsciously define what the Internet is.

However, this way of representing the World Wide Web is not consistent with the governance processes of the network or with the way users interact with it on a day-to-day basis.

This text proposes to rethink this vision of the Internet as a public space, first indicating the various types of problems that make it difficult to talk about the Internet as a public space, and then analyzes how digital art can help us rethink certain characteristics of the Internet as something public that is not public. are necessarily desirable for its future development.

Where does the idea of ​​the Internet as a public space come from?

There are many legends regarding the forces that designed the Internet protocols that we now have. Thus, it is common to say that the Internet arose from the military effort to have a communication tool capable of withstanding a nuclear war.

The reality is that although the creators of the first version of the Internet (ARPANET) tried to “sell” such a project to the military, they did not see this at all clearly, and finally developed this first horizontal network of computers.

The American counterculture of the sixties (cfr. Markoff 2005), as well as, to a lesser degree, a certain libertarian ideology (in the sense given in Nozick 1974) raised by some of the key figures in the ideological development of cyber rights and the new economy. Figures such as John Perry Barlow or Esther Dyson.

From this curious and unpredictable ideological mix arise a series of utopias that shaped not only the philosophical and political vision of the Internet – which is quite logical – but also the very development of technology: If email is as it is today, it It is not due exclusively to purely technological issues.

But also to the ideology shared by the different “fathers” of the Internet, they included basic ideas about what knowledge is and how information should be distributed when developing the first communication protocols from Internet. In the same way, we build on these ideologies our idea of ​​what kind of “space” the Internet can become, and to imagine it as a public space. Let’s see what they are and how they are based:

Like an utopia

We have in the first place what we could call “communicative utopia”. It is one of the most firmly rooted in the development of the Internet since its beginnings, and we also find it implemented in the communication protocols of the Internet. We coined it in a famous saying: “Information wants to be free”; information wants to be free.

Himanen (2002) explains this process in great detail and intuition, showing how this universalist ideal of allowing information to flow freely arises from the same university model of understanding information and is at the base of what he calls “hacker ethics”, the worker ethics and the developer of the new information society.

A second utopia, also present since the beginning of the Internet, is the political utopia. The best representative of this utopia is undoubtedly John Perry Barlow’s famous “Declaration of Cyberspace Independence” (Barlow 1996). Barlow defended how the Internet was going to become the new frontier (in the sense of the pioneers who went to the West) and that organize this new frontier in a self-managed way, without any type of government or interference from politicians, judges or lawyers.

More ideas

The text was generic and lyrical enough not to reveal the strong libertarian ideology (as we have indicated before, in Nozick’s sense of the term; the government limited to the aspect of being the guarantor of the laws. The self-managed society by individuals following the laws of the free market) so it functioned as a powerful meme, translating the text into dozens of languages, becoming the seed of the first groups of activists on the Internet.

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