Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Internet Fabulization

Adam Fish helpfully summarizes libertechian, technoprogressive, Great Man, and peer-to-peer narratives of the creation of the internet (narratives that dominate technodevelopmental fables more generally). He is correct to identify me with what he is calling the "technoprogressive" framing of this history (quibbles coming at the conclusion), and although I also sympathize with the peer-to-peer framing he prefers (my sympathy doesn't amount to a preference though) I agree with his larger point that the internet should be regarded as an assemblage in which all the protagonists of all these narratives and more have their part, agreement with which makes me leery of his claim that the peer-to-peer frame is the "most correct" of the four.
Manjoo explained, “In tech, no one does anything on his own. … in the tech industry, it takes a village.” Manjoo critiqued Crovitz’s… ignorance that Vint Cerf was a federal employee as was his co-creator of TCP/IP Robert Kahn an employee of the Defense Department… and his mistake in not recognizing that packet-switching technology was developed at RAND, a government funded think tank… He concludes: “The Internet, the Web, the microprocessor, GPS, batteries, the electric grid—if you’ve built a thriving company that depends on any of these things, you didn’t get there on your own. Or, as the president once said ‘You didn’t build that.’”

Manjoo’s discourse on the origins of the internet can be conceptualized as technoprogressive, aligned as it is with the historical and present US progressive movement, social liberalism, and social Democrats. This view acknowledges the role of the state in funding technology and science while addressing the shared costs and responsibilities of a state-supported networked society. Technoprogress has been theorized by Douglas Rushkoff, Donna Haraway, Mark Dery, James Hughes in the form of “democratic transhumanism,” and Dale Carrico. Hughes and Carrico, for instance, have been affiliated with the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, which forms the technoprogressive answer to the Technology Liberation Front’s technolibertarianism. Carrico says that technoprogressivism “assumes that technoscientific developments can be empowering and emancipatory so long as they are regulated by legitimate democratic and accountable authorities.” Manjoo, and President Obama before him, embodied technoprogressivism by claiming that it was the democratic and regulatory mechanisms, not to mention the US federal funding, that made the internet possible.
By way of conclusion, let me remind readers who might regard me, as Fish seems to do, as "affiliated" with IEET of this. And although I am well pleased to be corralled into the company of Donna Haraway and Mark Dery, about James Hughes let me direct interested readers to this and this.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

I've grown extremely skeptical of the heroic inventor narrative over the years. Case in point, Berners Lee is credited with creating the www but I was hearing detailed descriptions and predictions of sprawling collection of hyperlinked documents back in 87 and it doubtless goes back further. So while Berners Lee created the www, it didn't sprout out of his head like Athena popping out of Zeus's cranium. No technology ever does despite all the narratives to the contrary.