Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Schools of Internet Pessimism

Adam Thierer at The Technology Liberation Front posits two schools of doomsaying regarding Internet policy:

1. Net Skeptics, Pessimistic about the Internet Improving the Lot of Mankind


2. Net Lovers, Pessimistic about the Future of Openness

He discusses their elitism, their desire for intervention and counters them with evolution. Please read:

Amplify’d from

Despite their different concerns, two things unite these two schools of techno-pessimism.  First, there is an elitist air to their pronouncements; a veritable “the-rest-of-you-just-don’t-get-it” attitude pervades their work.  In the case of the Net Skeptics, it’s the supposed decline of culture, tradition, and economy that the rest of us are supposedly blind to, but which they see perfectly—and know how to rectify.  For the Net Loving Pessimists, by contrast, we see this attitude on display when they imply that a Digital Dark Age of Closed Systems is unfolding since nefarious schemers in high-tech corporate America are out to suffocate Internet innovation and digital freedom more generally.  The Net Loving Pessimists apparently see this plot unfolding, but paint the rest of us out to be robotic sheep being led to the cyber-slaughter since we are unwittingly using services (AOL in the old days; Facebook today) or devices (the iPhone and iPad) that play right into the hands of those corporate schemers who are out to erect high and tight walled gardens all around us.

Unsurprisingly, this elitist attitude leads to the second thing uniting these two variants of Net pessimism: An underlying belief that someone or something—most often, the State—must intervene to set us on a better course or protect those things that they regard as sacred.  They either fancy themselves as the philosopher kings who can set things back on a better course, or they imagine that such creatures exist in government today and can be tapped to save us from our impending digital doom—whatever it may be.