The Evolution Will Be Socialized
By Douglas Rushkoff
02.07.11, 12:44pm Comments (7)
From the actions of the Egyptian government to the policies of
Facebook, the monopolies of central banks to the corporatization of
the Internet, we are witnessing the potential of a peer-to-peer
networking become overshadowed by the hierarchies of the status quo.
It’s time for us to gather and see what is still possible on the net,
and what, if anything, can be built to replace it.
I have had a vague misgiving about the direction the net’s been going
for, well, maybe 15 years. But until recently, it was more like the
feeling when another Starbucks opens on the block, a Wal-Mart moves
into town, or a bank forecloses unnecessarily on that cool local
bookstore to make room for another bank.
Lately, however, what’s wrong with the net has become quite
crystalized for me. It started with the corporate-government
banishment of Wikileaks last year, and reached a peak with Egypt
shutting off its networks to stave off revolution. The Obama
administration seeking the ability to do pretty much the same thing in
the US, Facebook’s “sponsored stories,” and the pending loss of net
neutrality don’t help, either.
Here on Shareable, and then again in an OpEd for CNN.com, I suggested
we “fork” the Internet – that we accept the fact that the net is built
on a fundamentally hierarchical architecture, surrender it to the
corporations who run it, and consider building something else for
ourselves. The Internet as built will always be subject to top-down
government control and domination by the biggest corporations. They
administrate the indexes and own the conduit. It has choke points –
technological, legal, and commercial. They can turn it off and shut us
out. A p2p network protected only by laws – that exists but for the
grace of those in charge – is not a p2p network. It is a hierarchical
network allowing itself to be used in a p2p fashion, when convenient
to those currently in charge.
If we have a dream of how social media could restore peer-to-peer
commerce, culture, and government, and if the current Internet is too
tightly controlled to allow for it, why not build the kind of network
and mechanisms to realize it?
I received literally thousands of emails in response. Some people
simply wanted to know if it was really true – could a government
really just “turn off” the net? Yes. It’s true. Others wrote to let me
know there’s no alternative; there’s no such thing as an unstoppable
network. Even if we use ham radio or wifi “mesh” networks to connect
to each other, they can always be jammed by governments. True, but by
that logic the authorities also can prevent us from speaking to one
another by shooting us. At least the tyrant would be in the position
of attacking the people’s network, instead of simply turning off the
network he already controls.
Finally, though, the vast majority of emails came from people who
wanted to get started actually building a new net, developing p2p
currency, or figuring out how to promote deep democracy through social
media. What should they do? Where should they go? And those kinds of
questions can’t be answered in an email, an essay or a column. It’s
not something you click on. These challenges can only be answered over
time by people actively collaborating on solutions.
That’s why – with some encouragement from a few great organizations
including Shareable - I’ve decided to convene a summit called Contact.
Contact will seek to explore and realize the greater promise of social
media to promote new forms of culture, commerce, collective action,
and creativity. I'm inviting technologists, artists, activists,
businesspeople, funders, and other stakeholders in the networked
future, to come together to hatch new ideas, connect with new
collaborators, and forge an ongoing community for innovating social
media and beyond. Some of them, like Michel Bauwens of the P2P
Foundation, Paul Hartzog and Sam Rose at the Forward Foundation, have
been working on these questions for a while. Others come from NGOs and
even corporations looking to support and become part of whatever is
next, rather than spending money resisting it.
From the development of a new non-hierarchical Internet to the
implementation of alternative e-currencies, the prototyping of open
source democracy to experiments in collective cultural expression,
Contact will seek to initiate mechanisms that realize the true promise
of the networking revolution.
The first summit, to be held October 20, 2011 as a MeetupEverywhere
and centered at the historic Angel Orensanz Center in New York City,
will be a participatory festival for ideas and action, consisting
primarily of meetings convened by attendees. Featured participants
will deliver brief "provocations" on stage, sharing the greatest
challenges they are facing in their particular fields. But their
primary contribution to the day will be to join in the meetings
convened by other participants, sharing their experience, insight, and
even connections to help bring these ideas into reality.
If it’s not the only thing of its kind in the world, so much the
better. Let’s connect, conceive, and conspire. Contact isn’t a way of
competing with those efforts, but supporting them.
Topics I’m opening for discussion include:
Can we build an alternative Internet that can't be turned off?
Alternatives to top-down registries and corporate-controlled access
BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS
New net-based currencies and transaction networks
Net-enabled Local Activism and Job Creation
Arts networking initiatives
Decentralized social networking platforms
Proxy voting to expert friends
open source democracy
"Filter Bubbles" and how to prevent them
What Factors Facilitate Collective Intelligence?
The Reclamation of Public Space
But please feel invited to bring your own. I may be initiating this
thing, but I am by no means in charge.