Thursday, September 10, 2020

Master of Switching In An Age of Information

In an age of surveillance, propaganda, and fake news, I'm currently re-reading a 2010 title, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.  A decade ago, the Web 2.0-era appeared as if it were paving a way to a better humanity of collaboration, free expression and economic innovation.  Tim Wu's argument that information occurs in long "cycles" whereby open information systems become consolidated and closed over time seemed like a vague theory at the time.  A mere warning.   In 2010, I couldn't quite fathom how the internet belonged to a chronological continuum that included the rise of the Bell AT&T telephone monopoly, the founding of the Hollywood entertainment industry, broadcast, and cable television industries.   Many (including myself) were swept up in rewriteable and perpetual beta, and even conducted research, publishing, and all that of the glory of participatory and democratization of information.  Indeed, the optimism for the future of the web seemed infinite.  

While Wu warned us that it's companies like Apple that would eventually become a more closed system, and that the internet industry would follow the historical cycle of the rise of information empires, it didn't seem possible at the time.  The iPhone brought so many possibilities, and coupled with social media, enabled social movements across the world.   The future of the longtail was based on disruptive technologies meant to bring equality.   In 2006, You was Time's Person of the Year.  

But how times have changed.  The current dispute over TikTok reminds us that it's a microcosm of just how complicated the internet has become.  The vision of “open web” as a means to build a just and thriving society not only looks like a hazy reality, but the information empires formed from the geopolitical web of business has far from ensured us technological neutrality for human rights, privacy or even free expression.   How times have changed.     

No comments: