The Freedom That Once Was The Internet

The Freedom That Once Was The Internet

Authored by Jeffrey A. Tucker via The Epoch Times ,

It’s time to declare as regards the internet of old: Requiescat in Pace.

In this photo illustration an internet page is displayed on a computer screen in London, England, on April 13, 2006. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

It’s dead. We might as well face it.

Nearly every large application and website in existence, meaning most of what people use on what we call the internet, constituting an estimated 95 percent of the main portals of information, is now compromised by some power somewhere, making them no longer part of the free world and no longer part of the army of truth.

If that shocks you, you haven’t used Google or Facebook recently. They are both heavily rigged not to get you the information you want but rather to push out to you information that someone somewhere wants you to have. And the situation is getting worse, not better. This is despite impending court challenges that are hoping for a restoration of free speech. If there were a serious threat that this would happen, wouldn’t we see the censored venues improve and not worsen?

The situation is heartbreaking and gives rise to melancholic reflections on the promise and betrayal.

My fear is that hardly anyone remembers a time when the internet held out the highest hope in modern history for the emancipation of humanity from the control of the powerful. I had a model in my own head of a mass migration out of the controlled and regulated physical world and into a digital realm that was so large, so potentially infinite in scope, containing so many nodes and so many content providers, that states would be hopeless in the face of it.

Yes, I was the paradigmatic case of the techno-utopian who got bitten by the bug of progress in about 1996. I was sitting there at my desk, newly aware of these things called websites, and managing one myself. I put up a few old issues of a newsletter. A few days later, I needed to look at that newsletter. I saw it sitting across the room. At that moment, I suddenly realized that it would actually be easier just to look at it online.

Now, you might laugh when you hear that story. But keep in mind that at that point in history, most people had no idea of the extent of the power of this tool. I did not. I knew that I could post things and they would appear on a screen. But it wasn’t until that moment that it suddenly dawned on me. By posting anything online, I could liberate any bit of information from the physical world, in which only I could have access so long as I was sitting there, and give that same piece of information to millions and billions of people, possibly forever.

I did a deep intake of air in a state of shock and amazement. I immediately knew what my task was. I was determined to get every valuable piece of content in my possession and scan and post in every possible format. I was surrounded by out-of-print items of every sort. I got to work, piece by piece, putting it all up there for the world. I knew it would likely take me the rest of my career to do this but it was joyful work, work that would free the world. I would do my part.

It was two years later when a friend wrote me: “I have the name of a new search engine you absolutely have to try.”

“What’s wrong with AltaVista?” I asked.

“Nothing but this one is far better. It’s called Google.”

Sure enough, it was better. We all adopted Google as a friend. And it was for a very long time. It only improved day by day, and eventually solve the problem of email spam that was the biggest threat to software functioning at the time.

In those days, those of us playing with all these new tools felt like insiders and revolutionaries. We learned to code. We ate and slept HTML, and later learned to separate content and presentation with style sheets. We learned to manage servers and then build online databases to economize on processes to avoid tangles. We played with image formats and sizes. We learned about maximizing speed and search engine access. Every day, we learned a new trick and deployed it.

Goodness, those were heady times. We wore thumb drives from strings around our necks and were constantly plugged in, as builders of the new world.

We felt like we were part of a community, a global one, with the same ideals. Information naturally wanted to be free, we theorized and we believed, and it was up to us to make that happen. Nothing could stop us, not even governments. With unbreakable encryption not even backdoors to servers could do the trick. I ended up writing two full books on the thesis that the more we digitize everything, the freer we would become.

Truth is that everything around us seemed to confirm this view. Social media came along as did video services and free video calling plus every form of instant message to connect us instantly with anyone on the planet. When translation tools became available, even language barriers were breaking down.

My scanning and publishing projects had gone on hyperdrive. I put in several thousand books plus old journals plus diaries plus newsletters and magazines. And I cooperated with teams around the world to make them into digital books and then print books and searchable databases. The universe of information we were creating scaled and scaled and there seemed to be no limit to the abundance of connectivity and information that would pass through these magical tubes that were connecting the planet from one end to the other, regardless of nation states.

Was it always an illusion? Probably. The point is that the internet at its height was built by people (like me) who believed in it and worked toward achieving the ideal.

The ideal became gradually compromised over time. Copyright claims wrecked the idea of putting all knowledge online, as the Google Books program quickly discovered. Patent claims stopped the development of new tools, and did their part to consolidate the industry. Gradually what led to institutional power on the internet was not use or innovation but war chests of claims of “intellectual property.”

Such claims were inherently at war with what the internet wanted to be. I joined a band of brothers and sisters who were going to get rid of such old-fashioned rules and replace them with new ones, including file sharing apps and open declarations of Creative Commons licensing. Indeed, we had everything solved, a perfect way forward.

We forget one thing: the long historical trajectory of powerful states and their powerful corporate allies to work together to consolidate control and exploit the rest of humanity. As it turned out, there was no technical solution to that problem, no code, no app, no legal trick, no innovation, and not even a mass movement. The cartels got busy to regain control.

I’m going to date this new period of consolidation from about 2012 onward. It’s hard to say exactly when it all took shape but it was at some point during the Obama years. The antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft was the warning shot: play ball with the state or we will break you up. That threat is still with us.

Looking back, it’s clear that some people in government and corporate boardrooms simply declared: this new freedom that people think they have cannot work for stabilizing our power. We have to bring it to an end. The new world will operate more like the old.

The victory of Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 terrified elites the world over, and these seemed to be backed by growing populist movements far and wide. It was at this point that powerful interests simply decided that internet freedom had not worked for their interests. They decided to declare it to be over.

There were three steps in this process.

First, consolidate the industries, so that we only have to deal with a few rather than many: Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and a few others. Have them buy up any and all innovative competitors and either rope them into their operations or shut them down completely.

Second, erect high regulations in the industry to make sure that these main players are permanent and not challenged anymore by punks in a garage somewhere.

Third, embed regime-sympathetic managers and investors at these institutions and gradually turn them from serving the public to serving the regime.

The lockdown games of 2020 and following were their chance to deploy their new machine of censorship and control to see just how well they worked to propagandize the population. As it turns out, they worked pretty well. And that leaves only one last step: criminalize all speech that contradicts that which is approved.

That is happening in Brazil. The United States is next. China is the model of control.

Fortunately and for now, the work of many of us from the past survives in various forms but for how long? It is clear where we are headed. The power elite want the internet to work exactly like media of old: three channels saying all the same thing forever.

Will they get away with it? So far it is working. Of the internet dreams of old, we can say: The dream was betrayed at multiple levels and in ways is worthy of great novels.

To gain full control of the internet as a means of managing the public mind, however, is going to take far more than consolidation and surreptitious infiltration. To complete the task will require a level of population coercion on a scale we’ve never seen in history. Possible? Doubtful.

As for the dream of achieving freedom itself, we will always say: “Per aspera ad astra.”

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times or ZeroHedge.

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