I Believe Too

John Perry Barlow asks:

I guess we’ve run out of time, but to the extent we haven’t, might I encourage you to address one question? I want to know whether you think that the Internet is a liberating phenomenon. I still do.

I absolutely do. And there’s no better evidence than that dictators continue to fear it, as demonstrated by this rather sad story about Google capitulating to Chinese censorship demands. But regardless of the (perhaps predictable) tendency of big corporations to sell out, I think that the liberating power of the Internet exceeds the ability of the Chinese government, and its corporate collaborators, to snuff it, and I think we’ll see that demonstrated quite clearly before the decade is out.

Also from This Issue

Lead Essay

  • The Gory Antigora: Illusions of Capitalism and Computers by Jaron Lanier

    In our techno-Utopian dreams, the advance of the internet is “a little like a cross between Adam Smith and Albert Einstein; the Invisible Hand accelerating toward the speed of light,” says tech visionary Jaron Lanier in this month’s big-thinking lead essay. Yet, according to Lanier, we chug along saddled by the illusion that the Internet is mainly a technological rather than a cultural phenomenon. Software, Lanier argues, is “brittle” and can continue to function only when backed by what he calls “Antigoras”— “privately owned digital meeting arenas made rich by unpaid or marginally paid labor … tweaking the global system of digital devices so that the bits in the various pieces of software remain functional and meaningful.” Antigoras are indispensable, but “if software stays brittle,” Lanier says, “there will be a huge dampening effect on any hyper-speed takeoff plans of the digital elite.” Takeoff velocity requires a reorientation that acknowledges that the “the Net is precisely the generosity and warmth of humanity connecting with itself.”

Response Essays

  • Reply to Lanier by Eric S. Raymond

    Open source software guru Eric S. Raymond takes issue with Lanier’s characterization of “lock-in,” his antipathy to the command line, and his discussion of ambiguity. Raymond claims that if Lanier’s point was just that the Internet is “a conduit of expression between people,” then he would stop in agreement. But, he writes, “the actual point seems to be to maintain an opposition between capitalism and (gift) culture that I think is … mistaken.”

  • Reply to Lanier by Glenn Reynolds

    Glenn Reynolds – taking pieces from both Lanier and Raymond – argues that small proprietary zones within the big open Internet – “semigoras” in Lanier’s terms – might prove “very fertile places for innovation and growth on the Internet” with the potential to empower individuals and small groups to “achieve the worker’s paradise” through technology and markets.

  • Reply to Lanier by John Perry Barlow

    Ten years after his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” John Perry Barlow insists that “the Internet continues to be an anti-sovereign social space, endowing billions with capacities for free expression that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.” A liberating future is still ahead, Barlow argues, but we must be on guard against a deep fact of both biology and markets: “New success inspires creativity. Old success tries to kill it.”

The Conversation