Friday, November 18, 2005

Rise (and Fall?) of the Internet

There's a lot of laws going around to control the internet. China is probably the world leader in trying to control the internet, but here in the USA we try our hardest, too. With censoring and bizarre rituals of accountability, we are definitely heading towards a time when the pipe providers are also content providers. IE "the end of the internet", for tolerably obvious reasons.

This is supported by a host of money-powered laws. When one law is struck down, it's less than a year before another, nearly identical law manages to make it a bit further. Each time, money pushes its viewpoint a little deeper, presses a little harder. America: We put the "awful" in "lawful".

Some people are downright doomsdayish about the whole affair, such as this guy. It's hosted on, so you can expect a level of geek paranoia. Should you dismiss this sort of thing?

Not at all. His first two sections are right. The internet is in pretty deep trouble. His third section, however, is entirely incorrect.

It's not a matter of rephrasing things, or of fighting laws, or of our rights to speak, or any of that. This is what happens when things get popular. They get conquered by wealthy corporations, fattened, and then slaughtered. The internet will die, someday. You cannot change that, you cannot prevent that. It is as inevitable as eating. Money always wins, has always won, will always win.

But saying that the internet will die is not the same as saying communication will die. Geeks and hackers of all ages and types are rapidly learning that the cracks where money cannot see run deep, and in those shadowed depths the data runs wild. You can get anything down there, from the illegal to the immoral and all the way back again.

Law will hammer down on us, the same way it hammers down on all our inventions and breakthroughs. And, as before, we'll retreat to those cracks, until the rush of our wild data wears the cracks into rivers. Then, money will come and turn those rivers into bogs, and we'll find new cracks to inhabit. That's the way it's always been.

But this time, there's a difference.

If the internet becomes unusuable (an unlikely worst-case scenario), what do geeks do? Well, I'll tell you what I could do, and I don't count myself as even in the top 1% of geeks:

I would find it remarkably easy to convert over to peer networking. Short-range connectivity within a city can be maintained using WiFi or equivalent. It's cheaper than you might think. Long range connectivity can be made using any number of technologies. Even if all the data channels, such as cell phone calls and internet pipes, are closely monitored and restricted, you can still use older techniques updated with new compression algorithms. What kind of bandwidth do you think you can get off of a hidden multi-frequency HAM radio transmission?

Sure, our speeds would suffer. But geeks don't actually care about speed. People think we do. Even geeks think we do. But what we really care about is having more data than anyone else. On this internet, that means speed. On a peer network, that would be connection knowledge, trust registries, and darknet access points.

And that's absolutely worst case.

Geeks cannot be stopped. There are too many of us connected, now, and we'll never go back to being unconnected. Any attempt to disconnect the mass intelligence we've become will be routed around with astonishing speed and creativity.

So, yes, the internet is now bloating. Someday, it will begin to die. But by the time it is wheezing its last, we'll have a powerful, unregulated new method of staying connected. Then, it too will bloat and die.

And we'll get another one. Money can chase us, money can even eat a few of us. But there are too many geeks to stop, communicating too efficiently to track.

Simply put, for once in the history of mankind, there are more geeks than money.

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