for example, the national telephone networks wereowned for most of the twentieth century by nationalpost offices, which partly explains why FAXtechnology was so slow to take off in the West:organisations devoted to delivering letters by handwere not disposed to promote the idea of sendingletters down a telephone wire. In sharp contrast, usesand applications of the Internet were determinedentirely by the ingenuity of its users and those whodeveloped applications which could harness itsmessage-passing capabilities. Some commentators(for example, Lessig 1999
) have attributed theexplosion of economic activity and creativitygenerated by the Internet to this factor.The other feature of the original Internet archi-tecture which is significant for our purposes is thefact that authentication of users was not required.Each machine connected to the Net needed to havea unique ‘IP’ (Internet Protocol) address,
and all of that machine’s transactions with other machines onthe network could be logged. But there was—andcurrently still is—no provision for linking IP addressesto known individuals. This meant that the architecturefacilitated anonymity: a feature famously encapsu-lated by the celebrated 1993 New Yorker cartoonshowing two dogs in front of a computer. ‘On theInternet’, one is saying, ‘nobody knows you’re a dog’.The implications of the architecture’s facilitationof anonymity have been far-reaching. Anonymity isa two-edged sword. On the one hand it permits awide range of reputable (and disreputable) uses of theNet because the identity-based sanctions of the realworld do not apply in cyberspace. On the other hand,anonymity often enables the free expression anddissemination of views in ways that would be moredifficult in real-world arenas. The architecture makesit difficult, for example, for security services to trackdown or silence dissidents and for corporations toidentify whistle-blowers or campaigning groupsdisseminating critical information or hostilepropaganda.The technical architecture of the Net has thusbeen a prime determinant of how the network hasbeen used. As in the physical world, architectureenables some things and prevents others. Thesignificant point from our point of view is that thearchitecture of the Net is cast in terms of technicalprotocols, that is to say, as computer code. And, asLessig (1999
) has pointed out, there is nothingimmutable about code. It is pure ‘thought-stuff’ andas such can be changed. This is a subject to which wewill return.
The Internet is a global system in that it has nodes invirtually every country, but the density of users andconnections is very uneven across the globe. It isestimated, for example, that 69 per cent of Internetusers are located in North America and Europe, andthat Africa, with 13 per cent of the world’s population,has less than 1 per cent of the world’s Internet users.Nevertheless the scale of the network’s coverage isstill remarkable. Because of the ‘organic’ architecturecreated by the TCP/IP protocols, it’s impossible to sayhow many Internet users there are, but authoritativeestimates at the time of writing (February 2001)suggest numbers in the region of 400 million.
The Internet as a communications space forglobal civil society
Although there are arguments about its long-termsignificance, few doubt that the Internet represents aradical transformation of mankind’s communicationsenvironment. As one well-known Net evangelist(Barlow in Barlow
. 1995) has said, ‘We are in themiddle of the most transforming technological eventsince the capture of fire’. There is a widespread belief
C O N T E S T E D S P A C E : T H E I N T E R N E T A N D G L O B A L C I V I L S O C I E T Y J o h n N a u g h t o n
A number made up of four sets of digits: for example,255.212.12.40. Computers accessing the Net via dial-up lines are assigned temporary IP addresses from a bank held by their Internet services provider (ISP). Computers on local area networks generally access the Net through a gateway machine so that all transactions by an individual machine are logged against the IP address of the gateway computer.
Table 6.1:Estimated internet userpopulation, November 2000
AfricaAsia/PacificEuropeMiddle EastCanada and USALatin AmericaWorld Total
% of total
Nua Internet Surveys (URL) For country data seetable R10 in part IV of this yearbook.