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“What could the internet have been? We’ve grown so used to our digital networks that they can seem like a force of nature, with laws as immutable as the laws of physics. Yet not long ago, these networks were the object of experiments, conflicts, and at times arbitrary choices. And the fates of many industries hung in the balance. For instance, should users pay for online access in units of time, or of bandwidth, or according to the number of websites they enter? This was once a live question; over the years, providers have settled on a combination of the first two options. But suppose that the architects of the web had chosen a different course: if entering a new website cost us a few cents, we might be more discriminating. Fake news, consequently, might spread across smaller ranges and at slower speeds.
Two recent books address similar speculative scenarios in the course of offering alternative histories of the internet: David Clark’s Designing an Internet and Joy Lisi Rankin’s A People’s History of Computing in the United States. Clark’s book introduces its readers to scientists who designed our networks, many of whom still dream of redesigning them. Rankin writes about groups of students and researchers who used early computers with uncommon egalitarianism. Both authors wonder why versions of the internet that they personally favor have not prevailed. They also hope that recalling such forgotten projects could inspire their readers to fight for a better digital future.
Extant histories of the internet favor either heroic or deterministic narratives. On the determinist side, we have Paul Edwards’s The Closed World (1996), Fred Turner’s Democratic Surround (2013) and From Counterculture to Cyberculture (2006), John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said (2006), and others that describe the internet as the result of collisions between large-scale Cold War policies or zeitgeists. With some variations, these narratives portray the digital revolution as born from the improbable marriage of countercultural hippie experiments and the military-industrial complex. The blame for their unfortunate offspring—namely, rampant self-expression monetized by savvy entrepreneurs and embraced by a generally ignorant populace—is laid at the feet of now one, now the other of its putative parents.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"THE CAPTURE of the last territory controlled by the Islamic State on Saturday was far from a final victory over the movement, as U.S. commanders and diplomats were careful to emphasize."
"How a Gay Teen, an Internet Nazi, and a Late-Night Rendezvous Turned to Tragedy. When self-loathing meets the new age of online extremism."
"Benjamin Netanyahu ignored the intelligence operations of Beijing and Moscow for too long. Now, the Israeli government is finally paying attention, but it could be too late."
"Former Nick Jr. kids are now reckoning with this all-grown-up intrepid explorer, whose obstacles are a lot bigger than Swiper the Fox. And that is a hard pill to swallow."
"At the end of last week, the three-month Treasury bills' yield rose above the yield for 10-year Treasuries for the first time since 2007, prompting warnings that the U.S. is headed for recession later this year or in early 2020."
"A team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology attempted to answer some questions about voting with the help of artificial intelligence (AI)."
"The experts I spoke with all said that the internet had changed the way conspiracies spread, but conspiracies, both dangerous and petty, have always been with us."
"Pop culture today is obsessed with the battle between good and evil. Traditional folktales never were. What changed?"
"Trustful parents allow their children as much freedom as reasonably possible to make their own decisions. They trust their children’s instincts, judgments, and ability to learn from mistakes."
"Arugulagate. In 2007, Barack Obama was in Iowa, speaking as a presidential hopeful to a group of farmers who were worried about the stagnation of their crop prices while America’s grocery bills continued to rise."
"To say that information exists in and of itself is akin to speaking of spin without the top, of ripples without water, of a dance without the dancer, or of the Cheshire Cat’s grin without the cat."
"Ted Cruz replaces the Democrats’ muddled manifesto with a clear and unequivocal exploration of the hatred of Jews and its particular evils."