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The Case for Internet Optimism Part 2 - Saving the Net From Its Supporters (Adam Thierer)

The Case for Internet Optimism Part 2 - Saving the Net From Its Supporters (Adam Thierer)

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Published by Adam Thierer
This is the second of two essays making “The Case for Internet Optimism.” It was written by Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. These two essays appeared in the book, "The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet" (2011), which was edited by Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus of Tech Freedom, a digital policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

In these essays, Thierer identifies two schools of Internet pessimism: (1) “Net Skeptics,” who are pessimistic about the Internet improving the lot of mankind; and (2) “Net Lovers,” who appreciate the benefits the Net brings society but who fear those benefits are disappearing, or that the Net or openness are dying.

In this second essay, Thierer focuses on the rising crop of Internet pessimists who, though they embrace the Net and digital technologies, argue that they are “dying” due to a lack of sufficient care or collective oversight. In particular, they fear that the “open” Internet and “generative” digital systems are giving way to closed, proprietary systems, typically run by villainous corporations out to erect walled gardens and quash our digital liberties. Thus, they are pessimistic about the long-term survival of the Internet that we currently know and love. Leading exponents of this theory include noted cyber law scholars Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, and Tim Wu.

Thierer argues that these scholars tend to significantly overstate the severity of this problem (the supposed decline of openness or generativity, that is) and seem to have very little faith in the ability of such systems to win out in a free market. Moreover, there’s nothing wrong, Thierer argues, with a hybrid world in which some “closed” devices and platforms remain (or even thrive) alongside “open” ones. Importantly, “openness” is a highly subjective term, and a constantly evolving one. And many “open” systems or devices are as perfectly open as these advocates suggest.

Finally, Thierer argues, it’s likely that the “openness” advocated by these advocates will devolve into expanded government control of cyberspace and digital systems than that unregulated systems will become subject to “perfect control” by the private sector, as they fear. Indeed, the implicit message in the work of all these hyper-pessimistic critics is that markets must be steered in a more sensible direction by those technocratic philosopher kings (although the details of their blueprint for digital salvation are often scarce). Thierer argues that the dour, depressing “the-Net-is-about-to-die” fear that seems to fuel this worldview is almost completely unfounded and should be rejected before serious damage is done to the evolutionary Internet through misguided government action.
This is the second of two essays making “The Case for Internet Optimism.” It was written by Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. These two essays appeared in the book, "The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet" (2011), which was edited by Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus of Tech Freedom, a digital policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

In these essays, Thierer identifies two schools of Internet pessimism: (1) “Net Skeptics,” who are pessimistic about the Internet improving the lot of mankind; and (2) “Net Lovers,” who appreciate the benefits the Net brings society but who fear those benefits are disappearing, or that the Net or openness are dying.

In this second essay, Thierer focuses on the rising crop of Internet pessimists who, though they embrace the Net and digital technologies, argue that they are “dying” due to a lack of sufficient care or collective oversight. In particular, they fear that the “open” Internet and “generative” digital systems are giving way to closed, proprietary systems, typically run by villainous corporations out to erect walled gardens and quash our digital liberties. Thus, they are pessimistic about the long-term survival of the Internet that we currently know and love. Leading exponents of this theory include noted cyber law scholars Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, and Tim Wu.

Thierer argues that these scholars tend to significantly overstate the severity of this problem (the supposed decline of openness or generativity, that is) and seem to have very little faith in the ability of such systems to win out in a free market. Moreover, there’s nothing wrong, Thierer argues, with a hybrid world in which some “closed” devices and platforms remain (or even thrive) alongside “open” ones. Importantly, “openness” is a highly subjective term, and a constantly evolving one. And many “open” systems or devices are as perfectly open as these advocates suggest.

Finally, Thierer argues, it’s likely that the “openness” advocated by these advocates will devolve into expanded government control of cyberspace and digital systems than that unregulated systems will become subject to “perfect control” by the private sector, as they fear. Indeed, the implicit message in the work of all these hyper-pessimistic critics is that markets must be steered in a more sensible direction by those technocratic philosopher kings (although the details of their blueprint for digital salvation are often scarce). Thierer argues that the dour, depressing “the-Net-is-about-to-die” fear that seems to fuel this worldview is almost completely unfounded and should be rejected before serious damage is done to the evolutionary Internet through misguided government action.

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Published by: Adam Thierer on Jan 29, 2011
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11/05/2011

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 THE NEXT DIGITAL DECADE
ESSAYS ON THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET
Edited by Berin Szoka & Adam Marcus
 
 NextDigitalDecade.comTechFreedomtechfreedom.orgWashington, D.C.
 This work was published by TechFreedom ( 
 TechFreedom.org
 ), a non-profitpublic policy think tank based in Washington, D.C. TechFreedom’s mission isto unleash the progress of technology that improves the human condition andexpands individual capacity to choose. We gratefully acknowledge the generousand unconditional support for this project provided by VeriSign, Inc.More information about this book is available at
NextDigitalDecade.com
 ISBN 978-1-4357-6786-7© 2010 by TechFreedom, Washington, D.C. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of thislicense, visit
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
or senda letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco,California, 94105, USA.Cover Designed by Jeff Fielding.
 
89
CHAPTER 2
IS THE GENERATIVE INTERNET AT RISK?
Protecting the Internet Without Wrecking It:How to Meet the Security Threat 91
 
 Jonathan Zittrain
 
A Portrait of the Internet as a Young Man 113
 
 Ann Bartow 
 
 

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