The Net stems, as is generally well known, from the packet switching technology implemented by ARPANET to assure interconnection between research institutes and remote scientists (the belief viewing it as a communication system bound to survive a nuclear attack being somewhat of a net-myth of origin). ARPANET started its operativeness in late 1969, though the earliest concept thereof is – as far as I’m aware of – the Intergalactic Computer Network described by Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider in a memo to his colleagues in early 1963, while he was Head of the Information Processing Techniques Office at ARPA.
Considered by its users as the realm of (almost) freely available opportunities of a never heard of potential in the field of an unbound knowledge sharing, and being indeed the main infrastructure upon which the EU vision of a knowledge-society is based, the Net is now submitted to those very same transformation trends that are hitting our contemporary society. A new, aggressive form of capitalism – more and more loosened from actual industrial production, and rather involved in quick-act / quick-gain financial choices and displacement of huge capitals, with no second thoughts given to long term effects, or social stability – is now trying to, and not too rarely succeeding in getting the upper hand even towards national governments and meta-national organizations.
From this point of view, it is more than understandable that the Net be submitted to attempts to modify the roots of its current logic, and even more, of its philosophical raison d’être. Though free tools and data repositories abound (indeed, they are even strongly on the rise), potential danger stems from two different directions.
On the one side, a concentration of (still) freely available tools and platforms with a dwindling number of proposing actors. Very true, it is extremely advantageous for an end user to have one’s mail server, virtual drive, social platform, office tools, and much more all bundled together in a single offer by one company. On the other hand, the possibility of a technical crash, of financial crises, or of commercial malpractices should be a haunting thought and a nightmare for everyone. On the other side, Governments and meta-national companies alike are vying with each other to gain more and more control over end-users content, preferences, and choices.
Amazon’s end-user license for e-books – granting not proprietary but merely user’s rights for the downloaded files, implying that those files might (and will!) be deactivated or removed for a great many reasons – is one example of the first mentioned danger. Instagram’s recent (17 December 2012) attempt to modify its Terms of Service, allowing it to sell pictures stored on the platform to third parties, without notification or compensation to original owners – though presently retracted – could be another one. But both state-mandated Internet censorship or net-filtering choices (existing in one form or the other, in much varying degrees, in the vast majority of countries), and even net-access blocking attempts (during the Arab Spring and, to a more effective degree – due to the limitation of available Internet access providers – in present-days Syria) are poignant examples of the second danger mentioned above. And so is Iran’s governmental platform for video sharing, Mehr, aimed on the one side at blocking unwelcome content from You-tube and other social platforms – which had quite a role in coordinating and disseminating information about the 2009 anti-governmental protests – and on the other side at creating its own national internet (quite an oxymoron, if we come to think of it, considering the original idea of an Intergalactic Computer Network…).
As a countermeasure to this kind of short-sighted actions, “selfish” initiatives, and limiting choices, FOSS and open source programmes – fostering globality and specificity at the same time (“think globally, act locally” means, in this context: do have a vastly shareable approach, but focus on solving local, specific needs) – seem to have quite a strong potential. Knowledge sharing is the main road that brought us out of our caves of old, on paths spreading throughout the world. Networking on FOSS backed infrastructures and solutions could be the correct philosophical approach to make sure that this road will not be disrupted by unneeded hindrances, in the digital setting of our contemporary societies.