[ih] New Republic Article - "How We Misremember the Internet’s Origins"
Brian E Carpenter
brian.e.carpenter at gmail.com
Fri Nov 1 19:45:07 PDT 2019
Let me try this, and then I will retire from this thread.
My thesis is that contemporary politics played a large role in making the road system look like what it looks like, *even if* the decisions in the moment were ad hoc. As John pointed out earlier, even ad hoc decisions were made by humans out there in the world with their own political leanings. But the motor vehicle industry in particular pushes a narrative of political neutrality *today* that is projected on the road system of the past, one that is not true.
When John McAdam invented the basic system of modern road building in 1816, he very possibly didn't realise that he was facilitating the development of steam traction engines, private automobiles, two world wars, Greyhound buses, interstate highways, semi-trailer articulated trucks, and human-induced climate change. He thought he was making things easier for horses, carts and carriages. But in fact, according to Wikipedia, his "efficient road-building and management work had revealed the corruption and abuse of road tolls by unscrupulous Turnpike Trusts, many of which were run at a deliberate loss despite high toll receipts." (Look up the "Rebecca Riots" for more on the social consequences of McAdam's politically neutral invention.)
Clearly McAdam should have anticipated all this and designed his road-building technology differently.
On 02-Nov-19 13:26, Darius Kazemi wrote:
> One last set of comments before I get on a plane for 6 hours...
> On Fri, Nov 1, 2019, 8:08 PM Noel Chiappa <jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu <mailto:jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu>> wrote:
> I've read it numerous times over the day, trying to work it out, and I focus
> on the last para, where she says:
> "But even the most ad hoc of these events occurred in a particular
> ideological context. What is the result of ignoring or blithely denying that
> context? Lo and behold: It looks a lot like 2019"
> which sounds like she's unhappy that we didn't think through how it would be
> used, and do a better job to pre3vent, or at least influence, that.
> I disagree with this. What she is saying is that latter day technologists and historians deny the context in which the internet was created, and that gets us to our current problems.
> An earlier
> para seems to agree with that:
> "But perhaps the most enduring truth of the internet is that so many of its
> foundational moments and decisive turning points emerged from ad hoc actions
> and experiments undertaken with little sense of foresight or posterity."
> But then there's this:
> "But this is another recurring theme seen in the many moments of ad hoc
> internet history: By emphasizing the technical innovations (and obsessive
> dedication to them) as more important than the political and economic
> contexts in which they were germinated, the graybeards of internet history
> .. perpetuate the illusion that technology magically exists outside of
> politics, rather than existing in a constant dialogue with it."
> which sounds more like she's saying that contemporary politics played a large
> role in making the Internet look like what it is.
> She uses the phrase "internet history" because she is critiquing the way we historicize the internet. Her thesis is that contemporary politics played a large role in making the internet look like what it looks like, *even if* the decisions in the moment were ad hoc. As John pointed out earlier, even ad hoc decisions were made by humans out there in the world with their own political leanings. But the tech industry in particular pushes a narrative of political neutrality *today* that is projected on the internet of the past, one that is not true. It is in the title of the essay even: this is an essay about how we remember the internet, not about what happened at the time.
> If so, why couldn't she just start out by saying 'The Internet looks like what
> it is today because of the political environment at the time it was created -
> both in general, and around the people who created it.' Then she could go on
> to explain how and why - lay out the detail in an organized way to back up her
> This is how I would write a college essay about the topic but probably not what the New Republic is looking for, in terms of style.
> I think people here are being defensive (understandable) and missing the point that this is a criticism of present day myth making around the internet and how it (the myth!) is used to further agendas of various actors.
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