Some see the Internet a wonderful network of distributed and interconnected nodes, all working together and individually in harmony. While this might be true in some aspects, this view of the Internet as a libertarian utopia where all nodes are created equal is a future only imagined by Naïve 1980 cyber hippies; which saw the Internet as facilitating freedom of information to all.
The Internet in reality is a very commercialized, privatized and a censored place, a stance that most cyberspace citizens will agree with. Toffler and co explains that the reason for this lies in the government’s efforts to apply ‘Second Wave economy’ (commercialized, industrial) rules and regulations to the ‘Third wave economy’ (cyberspace or knowledge age). The social and political history for this is brilliantly outlined in Evgeny Morozov’s 2011 book ‘The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom’, so give that a read.
While this view of the Internet might be discouraging, there are some out there working diligently to fix this; these members describe to an ideology known as Cyber libertarianism, where information freedom, end of online regulation and online privacy, are core values.
One of these activists is Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer and Internet ‘hactivist’. For more information of his extraordinary life, explore the biographical infographic I created below.
Aaron Swartz fought for freedom of access to information, intellectual property rights and copyright among other things, his autobiographical documentary ‘The internet’s own boy’ echoed Toffler’s concerns about the conditions of cyberspace.
Below I seek to show the correlation between Toffler’s concerns about the cyberspace and the Swartz’s case study.
One interesting comparison that I found in the autobiography was this constant reference to Swartz’s script (used to download JSOR documents) not doing any real damage therefore is not seen as harmful. This reminded me of Lessing’s story about the ‘worm’ that ‘sniffs’ out the wanted information without ‘interfering’ with the operation of machine.
What this all boils down to is that in order to have a cyberspace that mirrors the utopian possibilities of the internet once imagined, we need to fundamental rethink not only government policy, but also concept of freedom and the definition of property in the knowledge age.
When it comes to freedom of access on the internet, nothing is perfect still.
But the life of Aaron Swartz inspired unprecedented equality in policies regarding freedom on the internet. Even though he’s gone, the whole online community continues to honor him. Even after an untimely death Aaron Swartz’s legacy will continue to live on.
Swartz, A 2008, ‘Guerilla Open Access Manifesto’, accessed 12/08/2015, https://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt
The Biography.com 2015, accessed 11/08/2015, http://www.biography.com/people/aaron-swartz