As people who need to act, we need to rethink before taking action. Before we address the question of the impact of the internet we need to ask ourselves why we should be concerned about it in the first place. In talking about the impact of internet, its information systems and the Internet culture, we often assume the Internet to be a constant commodity, almost like a 220 watt bulb. I want to treat the internet as a social activity and not as a constant. The question, then, is of the structure of the internet. What does the internet do to the social? Does the construction of the internet make it more social than typical technologies? Communication being the fibre of society, the Internet is more potent than other technologies on virtue of being a communicative technology.
Both the market and the state are invested in constructing technologies. I do not buy the story that it is being created for the people, but it does lend scope for us to interact. We need to have a plan regarding this tool, the Internet, which is extremely impactful in society. There is a circuitous layer of technology within which new institutional compositions are taking place. A certain kind of sociality is intermediated by internet.
We have been talking about policy as architecture, since it constructs the rules of the game. It is a social structure. We can now ask whether the architecture of technology could be seen as forming new policies. After all, it does set the common rules of the game of our sociality. Policy can be socially negotiated in micro-contexts but it does mediate society. As of now, we know that the private sector controls technology. If we agree to the proposition that social software is the architecture of society and thus that it mediates it, we have to make the case for it to be come publicly owned.
The presumption that Internet is a neutral medium for transmitting information is still prevalent. It is thought that internet is only a bundle of pipes that does not alter the message in any way, and that it is different from other mediums only in being asynchronous and more effective. However, its structure is much more complex and the concern over whether it serves public and private interests becomes important.
We should make the distinction between Techno-structure and Info-structure. While the former is the architecture, the latter is the information being transmitted. It is the possession of the information that gives the owner of the architecture a lot of power, which is why they should be owned by people in public interest. If we look at it, most of the gigantic companies are information companies. Google even got permission from the election commission to undertake data collection on their behalf, and it was only later that the project was debated and withdrawn.
We might also want to ask ourselves if the internet is getting more centralized or de-centralized. The seeming decentralization is in fact increasing the number of subjects to the structure. The Top ten US websites command 75 percent of page views of the internet. The moment one enters an application, their interaction takes place within the private world of the application. It cannot be denied that most Internet mediation is in the hands of big private companies. The question of the interest of the mediator becomes extremely important, especially considering the perceived neutrality of the internet. The case for it to be publicly owned has to be put forth strongly.
Report: Shireen Asam
Photography: Samuel Buchoul
Editing: Chitralekha Manohar & Samuel Buchoul