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Is the Internet changing the world – or is the world changing the Internet?

Published on 28 January 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

In a recent article in Forbes magazine, Scott Cleland introduces an angle that I’ve never actually stopped to think about – until now. I’ve been so busy lauding the fact that the Internet is changing my world that I’ve never given much thought to how the world is changing the Internet.

We all appreciate how revolutionary the Internet has been – effectively turning the world into a global village, enabling real-time conversation, and immediate transfer of information. The Internet appears to have a life of its own – to be continually evolving and growing and expanding and make the world smaller and smaller. But, according to Cleland, reality has hit. ‘The Internet’s weaknesses, problems, and abuses have to be addressed and fixed because they have and can adversely affect hundreds of millions of people and so much of the world’s information and commerce.’ So, in effect, the world is making the Internet ‘less universal’ so that these concerns can be addressed.

  1. Privacy-protection/invasion: ‘a big Internet privacy backlash is brewing in democracies’
  2. Property-protection: ‘increasing rejection of free-content/online ad model’
  3. Expectations: no longer ‘special, different or exempt from the law or fiscal obligations, but is increasingly viewed as a fully integrated part of society with most all the same responsibilities that others have.’
  4. Militarization: the system is ‘inherently insecure by design’ which means ‘cyber-security concerns will only grow and force changes in the Internet ecosystem’.
  5. Sovereign-ization: ‘Sovereign nations are increasingly subordinating the universal Internet to their own more national-internets.’
  6. Politicization: ‘Major reversals in Internet policy leadership are changing the free and open Internet.’
  7. UN-ification: ‘The accumulation of the previously-discussed changes is fueling a major effort by the United Nations (UN) to take over governance from ICANN and to impose UN oversight of the Internet.’

I’m not sure that all of Cleland’s points are accurate or right. But all the same, it’s certainly turned my perspective upside down. I’d forgotten that the Internet is simply a tool – one that can be used for good or bad. And that it is its governance that will ultimately control it.  So rather than the Internet continuing to change our world, perhaps it’s gone as far as it can go and it’s now the world’s turn to shape it into what it wants it to be. mmmm…. How long is a piece of string

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