[ih] New Republic Article - "How We Misremember the Internet’s Origins"
jeanjour at comcast.net
Fri Nov 1 18:13:12 PDT 2019
> 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.
They do? There was a lot of utopian thinking going on during that period. Not all of it made a big splash, such as the group that was discussing Jean Iseli’s I-colony discussions. How does the politics of then lead us to where we are?
If anything, we didn’t foresee how many people would try to use this for less than good purposes.
> 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.”
Like what? My concern is that had we had 20-20 foresight, people wouldn’t like it very much.
There is the possibility that if the Internet had gone through the same transition as most research: productization, deployment to business first (usually early technology is expensive and business does it first), then to the consumer. That some (and I stress ’some’) of the bad aspects of the Internet would have been avoided. But I don’t see any of those decisions preventing the kinds of problems we have today with Facebook, etc. All of this is in a domain that the ’technical innovations’ of the 70s and 80s barely touched, i.e. what kinds of applications could be built.
> 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.
What she seems to be forgetting is that this is about the 50th anniversary of the ARPANET, not the Internet. The Internet was based on a totally different concept, and while there is some overlap. The lack of overlap is also significant.
There was a remark earlier that Bob Kahn was hardly a hippie. The thing about the ARPANET was there was a wide range of people in involved. There were senior people who had real jobs and had finished school before the 60s really took off or were deeply buried in their dissertation when it did. Then there was a group just a few years younger for whom it was a totally different experience. Both had a significant hand in how things went.
I have offered this conjecture on here before:
Suppose some DCA bureaucrat had been put in charge of IANA, rather than Postel. What would have happened?
Or Suppose instead of ARPA springing for really expensive super fast 56K lines, we had more normal 9.6K. What would be talking about?
> 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 thought journalism was all about clear concise prose. What is the New Republic interested in?
> 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.
I don’t think she understands the history or the myth.
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