Control, Change and the Internet

Patrick Maslen (patrick@quest-bird.com)

Conclusion

"Netiquette is Internet Protocol for humans."

- Patrick Maslen, Control, Change and the Internet

The physical, logical and social structures of the Internet have mutated continuously throughout its twenty-four year history. People used the Internet in ways never dreamed of by its designers. ARPA wanted a network to share computer resources and aid military research, but academics and graduate students used it to send electronic-mail to each other about their favourite science-fiction authors. During the Cold War, Paul Baran envisioned a distributed network to protect the United States from nuclear attack, but when his idea materialised thirty years later, it was a global civilian network which posed a challenge of its own to United States national security.

One thing is clear from the Internet's brief history: centralised, rigid hierarchies and the Internet do not mix. The bureaucratic structure and development of Open Systems Interconnection was the antithesis of the Internet Protocol. The two systems were incompatible. The structure of TCP/IP has always undermined hierarchies and centralised control, as it did to the USENET Backbone Cabal in 1988 and (more dramatically) to the KGB in 1991. The global civil society allowed people to sidestep governments and affect international events.

Rejecting hierarchy, the Internet provided the people of the world with a new paradigm of large-scale organisation. The Internet Protocol became an incredibly potent tool for the re-organisation of human social activity, from commerce to government. The Internet is anti-hierarchical, not anti-institutional. It did not simply erode human social structures; it helped people to create new ones. However, just as few businesses flourish today with no telephone, it is likely that future organisations - large or small - which cannot adapt to the Internet's structures are likely to sink quietly to the bottom of the new high seas.

The implications of the uncontained spread of the Internet Protocol across the planet are only just beginning. Given the pace of change of the Internet, I can only guess at its ultimate effects on the global civil society, states and non-governmental organisations. I started this project with doubts about the Internet's "uncontrollability". Now, those doubts are gone, but they are not completely replaced with boundless optimism about net's future. Problems and possibilities abound in the Internet's wild wired world.


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