Saturday, July 21, 2018

THOMAS LEMAIGRE - When you became the product: A chronology of the internet

The simplest definition of the internet is as the interconnection of an infinite number of computers. This interconnection is based on all kinds of devices: cables, routers, dedicated computers, referred to as servers, or large numbers of these together as data centres. The internet becomes interactive through computer languages, the most common being html, created in 1992. Indeed, it was as a combination of machines and languages that the internet was invented in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Without going into detail, it is instructive to look into the cultural contexts out of which the internet developed. The first was the US military, which was seeking a telecommunications system so decentralized that it would continue to function even in the event of Soviet nuclear strikes. The second was the scientific community, which instilled its own values into the system: cooperation, autonomy, consensus and non-commerciality. The third context was a disparate group of American entrepreneurs and technicians influenced by the post-hippie counter-culture of the West Coast. 

Radically individualistic and libertarian, this group was attracted by technology as a means of liberation on the margins of society. In the 1980s, the digital world was already marked by a tension between proprietary information technology – IBM was the first company to make a profit from this kind of technology with its PCs – and freeware and the licenses that prevented it from being privatized. The latter were to open the way to the creative commons, an alternative to the usual forms of intellectual property that were held to be over-restrictive.

This composite genealogy was to provide the structure for the subsequent development of the internet between the poles of openness and control, liberty and domination, free-to-use and free enterprise. This brief chronology will illustrate how the internet has a dynamic history of power relationships that continues to characterize our how we interact with digital technology. Without yielding to promises of commercial advantage or dystopian predictions about artificial intelligence and transhumanism, it will attempt to link three levels of development: technique, use and representation… read more: