by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
chaos, control, fight, inevitability, internet

Is The Battle Over The Internet About Control vs. Chaos? Or Delusions vs. Reality?

from the entropy-is-not-a-bad-thing dept

A bunch of folks have been pointing to Vanity Fair's writeup on the fight for the future of the internet. It talks about a bunch of things, but I think the best summary of the article comes not at the beginning, but a little ways in, where author Michael Joseph Glass writes:
One way to think about the War for the Internet is to cast it as a polar conflict: Order versus Disorder, Control versus Chaos. The forces of Order want to superimpose existing, pre-digital power structures and their associated notions of privacy, intellectual property, security, and sovereignty onto the Internet. The forces of Disorder want to abandon those rickety old structures and let the will of the crowd create a new global culture, maybe even new kinds of virtual "countries." At their most extreme, the forces of Disorder want an Internet with no rules at all.

A conflict with two sides is a picture we're used to--and although in this case it's simplistic, it's a way to get a handle on what the stakes are. But the story of the War for the Internet, as it's usually told, leaves out the characters who have the best chance to resolve the conflict in a reasonable way. Think of these people as the forces of Organized Chaos. They are more farsighted than the forces of Order and Disorder. They tend to know more about the Internet as both a technical and social artifact. And they are pragmatists. They are like a Resistance group that hopes to influence the battle and to shape a fitful peace. The Resistance includes people such as Vint Cerf, who helped design the Internet in the first place; Jeff Moss, a hacker of immense powers who has been trying to get Order and Disorder to talk to each other; Joshua Corman, a cyber-security analyst who spends his off-hours keeping tabs on the activities of hackers operating under the name of Anonymous; and Dan Kaminsky, one of the world's top experts on the Internet's central feature, the Domain Name System.
This is an interesting, and somewhat different way of positioning many of the battles that we normally talk about. I think that some of the descriptions in the article are overly simplistic (to downright misleading), but the framing is still interesting. I cringe a little at the use of "chaos" as being the opposite of control here, because I think chaos (and disorder) have negative connotations. Furthermore, when you set it up that way, you are effectively suggesting that order or control on the internet is possible. I don't think that those pushing back against the folks described in the article as seeking "order" are necessarily in favor of "disorder." It's more that they recognize the impossibility of controlling a system that is effectively uncontrollable, and that each attempt to do so has significant (sometimes intended, but frequently unintended) consequences.

The people described in the article as seeking "Organized Chaos" are realists not because they compromise the principles of one side with the other, but because they recognize how the system has to function, and worry when those who don't understand it seek to tinker with what they clearly do not grasp.

The article centers on the upcoming attempt by certain countries to shift significant internet oversight to the ITU, in part to help countries like Russia, China, Brazil, India and Iran who seek greater control over the internet. This is going to become a bigger and bigger issue as the year goes on, but it is definitely part of a larger debate over what happens to the internet going forward. The article also discusses the SOPA/PIPA fight, and how politicians around the world are learning not to just mess with the internet blindly.

All in all a good read, but one that definitely underplays some of the significance of what's really happening, and (unfortunately) pitches it as a battle where either side has an equal chance of succeeding. That's not true. The fight is really more between those who understand the internet, and those who don't. The "pragmatists" listed in the article are really just those patient enough to try to drag those who don't get the internet far enough into the future that they don't muck things up too badly.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:37am

    Two Sides

    More like "Iron Fisting vs Personal Liberty"
    "The "pragmatists" listed in the article are really just those patient enough to try to drag those who don't get the internet far enough into the future that they don't muck things up too badly."
    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing... I suspect the more "they" know the more they're going to f&ck things up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    PlagueSD (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:40am

    It's not about Control vs. Chaos. It's about controlling the chaos...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Danny, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:48am

    Control vs Chaos

    You mean CONTROL vs CHAOS don't you?

    But only if this battle were as funny as it was in Get Smart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    John Doe, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:53am

    The irony is, any attempt to gain control will only create chaos

    If the BRIC nations, or any other nation(s) for that matter, attempt to gain control of the internet, it will only create chaos. The internet was built to withstand attacks and route around damage and failures. Attempts to control the internet will only result in fragmenting it with uncontrolled DNS servers, VPNs, etc. Ironic isn't it? Those who seek to control it will only cause it to be more uncontrolled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Rcs (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:55am

    Another War

    The battle over the internet is the next 'war on drugs'. You would think that we would have learned by now that control is an illusion. In our attempt to control, we actually end up doing more harm than if things were left alone.

    The motivations are fear based; not fact based. The fear comes from those in control realizing that their power is threatened.

    A confident man or woman would rest easy knowing they could evolve to meet any challenge. Those who seek to control represent the lowest qualities of man. They end up in positions of power precisely because of their sickness.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    tjb, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:55am

    1984 vs. the 21st century, if you will.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:55am

    Actually, seems like a bit of a false dichotomy here. These aren't the only choices, are they?

    The real question is "Will the legal system catch up with the internet?" , and the answer is "yes, at some point". Basically, most governments have had a hands off approach for the most part in dealing with the internet, but they are realizing that they face some dilemmas.

    First, while commerce is moving online, much of it isn't specifically under any control or laws that make sense. You end up with jurisdictional issues that are a real issue going forward. Many of the consumer protection style laws are difficult if not impossible to apply in the current system.

    Second, they are seeing that the money is often flowing out of their countries with little or no taxation. The commercial tax base erodes as companies move to operate offshore, while at the same time eroding local commerce.

    Third, they see that the online world isn't very safe, secure, or private, and as in point one, the consumer protections are not being applied for the most part.

    In the end, the internet will change many things. But local / regional / federal governments around the world are starting to feel the need to influence how the internet works at least for their citizens, and that will only mean more actions and more laws like SOPA coming down the pipe.

    You can blame the Europeans, their privacy laws really started the ball rolling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:55am

    I suspect that it's much closer to the Platonic concepts of Fascism and Anarchy at the extremes, with moderates on both sides of the debate being unheard as the edges shout the loudest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    MrWilson, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 9:58am

    "Chaos" is just the authoritarian translation for "freedom" the same way "socialist" is the RepubliCorp translation for "not supporting corporate greed."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:00am

    Re: Control vs Chaos

    "You mean CONTROL vs CHAOS don't you?"

    It was spelled "KAOS" on their logos...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:13am

    it's about governments stopping the people from using the greatest communication tool ever invented. no government wants it's people to be able to organize themselves into anything more than a disorganized rabble, especially if they can then inform people in other countries of anything/everything. considering the 2-faced attitude of the democratic governments (telling dictatorships to stop persecuting/restricting, whilst doing the same thing in supposed democracies), what else do people expect? once they have totally achieved their aim, these 2-faced governments will give complete permission to certain industries to use the internet for their benefit, a practice that has already started but not yet come to fruition (wont be long, considering all the underhanded bills being introduced worldwide!)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:21am


    Governments vs Interwebz.

    I bet on the Interwebz.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:32am

    The mainstream media - government-industrial complex wants to brainwash us into believing a politically motivated delusion, that blue collar crime is the problem, that we are a nation with so many jails because there are so many criminals and people who are unfit to be a member of society, etc...

    Big corporations are not the problem, the revolving door is not the problem, anti-competitive laws are not a problem because they don't exist, we live in a free market capitalistic society, we do have free speech (even though, thanks to government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies, we really don't and anyone who protests or dissents should be ridiculed by the only legal media outlets available and not heard by the rest of society. and to the extent that our current media isn't so one sided, it's only because of the Internet's influence on the media. The media used to be a LOT worse and far more misleading before the advent of the Internet), we should just remain ignorant about these anti-competitive laws and their abuses and the social harm they cause and go about pretending that we have freedoms and that we live in a free market capitalistic society.

    In the meantime there exists government established taxi-cab monopolies, government established liquor license and gambling arena monopolies, government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies, government established electricity, water, and mailbox delivery monopolies, government established monopolies on the food you eat (thanks to government established monopolies in the form of patents and the abuse by Monsanto and others to abuse these laws to drive competing farms out of business), IP laws with a one sided penalty structure that deters restaurants and other venues from hosting independent performers and that even deters bakeries from allowing children to create custom drawings on their birthday cakes, etc...

    We live in a plutocracy, what we live in is the antithesis of what Adam Smith envisioned. The very purpose of free market capitalism, what we learn in economics, is that government established monopolies are bad. Yet, we live in a society absolutely plagued with them everywhere one turns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Suja (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:41am

    Living in the schizophrenic & often hostile Dead-site Wastelands, Content Jungles, Virus Countries, Twilight Zones and Seas of Shit that make up the wilds of open Cyberspace are the vast Chaos tribes of the Internets.

    They make their homes in whatever scraggly Forum-Villages they can scrape together from spare code & coffee beans, some of it's members are Trolls & Griefers, most of which can be found rummaging around in the various Cesspools, Morale-Morasses & Forum-Ghettoes that line the Sea of Shit.

    One of the most notable of their kind is a conglomerate jumble of trailers all tied together atop a Shit-Swamp known as 4chan.

    Some of the other tribes besides 4chan include Anonymous, though technically more a cult than a tribe it owes it's roots to Chaos, even those of more civilized establishments may wear the infamous cloak & mask of Anonymous should they ever fear for their security.

    Then there is the blood-thirsty Lulzsec who are often found rebelling against something or other in their own brutish way.

    Not all members of Chaos are tribes, however, some are just establishments set up by people who have some disagreement with or seek a different path than the status quo, the most fortunate and/or wealthy of the these create massive moving fortresses capable of war, the one of the grandest of such forts is known only as the Pirate Bay.

    It is a massive server an even more massive port which other smaller servers may link themselves, it is here that many trade away from the restrictions of the IP Gestapo which governs so much of the walled-in White-Net above.

    It ruled by a mysterious King-Beyond-the-Wall who often employs the service of LOLcats to spread importance of copying & sharing, as you can probably guess LOLcats can now be found pretty much anywhere on the Internet.

    The rest of the non-tribe members of Chaos include servers in which Dungeon Masters create massive worlds for others to explore, laid-back Party Cities full of neon video-signs on every building with music blaring & clearing grounds for the various restrictions of the White-Net.

    There is no question that the forces of Chaos are every bit as numerous, if not more, than their more civilized, mainstream or 'legal' cousins, they are limited only by their inability to work together as one single coordinated force, as a result, the Gray & Dark-Nets may forever remain second place to the White-Net and the rules it imposes upon them.

    ....Lemme make another post for the side of order.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:50am


    You need to get out more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    saulgoode (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:52am

    It is not so much Chaos versus Control, but "evolution" versus "intelligent[sic] design".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Suja (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:54am

    Re: Re:

    And you need to stay in more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Suja (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 10:57am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Stay awhile and listen" - Deckard Cain.

    Nobody ever wants to stay awhile and listen lol, now in D3 they even made him not talk like he used to in D2 =(

    I miss the days where people actually liked stories, even ones inspired by articles on a site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Baldaur Regis (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 11:04am

    What's noteworthy

    is that this article was published in Vanity Fair, and not once did it mention the internet as "the information superhighway".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 11:18am

    The internet is Chaordic

    Chaordic -

    The portmanteau chaordic refers to a system of governance that blends characteristics of chaos and order. The term was coined by Dee Hock, the founder and former CEO of the VISA credit card association.

    The mix of chaos and order is often described as a harmonious coexistence displaying characteristics of both, with neither chaotic nor ordered behavior dominating. Some[who?] hold that nature is largely organized in such a manner; in particular, living organisms and the evolutionary process by which they arose are often described as chaordic in nature. The chaordic principles have also been used as guidelines for creating human organizations -- business, nonprofit, government and hybrids—that would be neither centralized nor anarchical networks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Jay (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 11:18am


    Wake me up when your argument isn't based on the false notion that the internet is lawless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Gimmy A Braeke, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 11:48am

    It's about money.

    It's always about money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 12:08pm

    i think ive seen this movie

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    A Guy (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 12:52pm

    The battle is, and always has been about money vs liberty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 1:09pm

    Re: Re:

    Jay, the internet isn't lawless - it's just that the law is set by whatever country or zone has the lowest standards - which is often no standard or no enforcement at all.

    Why do you think most of the biggest internet scams originate outside of the western world? It's because these countries have either no laws to deal with the issues, or no desire to enforce the flimsy laws they do have. In the case of mother Russia, it's because the Russian Mafia runs most of it. In the case of China, it's sanctioned by or permitted by government officials. In Nigeria, they just don't give a damn.

    Why do you think Kim Dotcom was playing musical countries? he wasn't in New Zealand just for the fun of it, he thought it made it harder for him to get extradited. You know, citizen of X, companies located in Y, living in Z. It's all about playing jurisdictions and trying to find the place where the law will pursue you the least.

    So lawless isn't the description - it's just that the internet is running on the failed laws of the weakest countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Jay (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 1:41pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Funny how China has a better movie industry than the US because of lax copyright laws. Also, Brazil had been stringent in piracy laws to no avail. Point is, enforcement does not equate to more purchases of content.

    We haven't needed more laws to turn the internet into territories. We've just needed purple to stop interfering in the growth of the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 3:35pm

    What interests me most

    I read the whole article and the part that I find most interesting is the last paragraph:

    "Aside from wealth or arcane knowledge, the only other guarantor of security will be isolation. Some people will pioneer new ways of life that minimize their involvement online. Still others will opt out altogether—to find or create a little corner of the planet where the Internet does not reach. Depending on how things go, that little corner could become a very crowded place. And you’d be surprised at how many of the best-informed people about the Internet have already started preparing for the trip."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    CureHD, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 5:48pm


    What is the opposite of control anyways? It's certainly not chaos. Independence seems like it fits the bill though. For example the British Empire sought to control American colonists, while the colonists sought independence from that control. The British probably felt their "war on colonists" was just as important as the government of today feels about it's wars on . It's interesting to realize that the US government wouldn't even exist as it does today if it was for a bunch of rowdy colonists employing chaos as a means to win their quest for independence. Chaos and independence versus order and control in a universe that designed to have a lot of one and very little of the other. I know who I'll always bet on... at least until the mind controlling nano-bots come along and even then I'm not entirely sure absolute control would be 100% achievable. Purple monkey dishwasher!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 3rd, 2012 @ 6:29pm

    It seems the governments are making it so bad for the people everywhere. That the people are going to welcome a new system and they will finally establish their new world order.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Apr 4th, 2012 @ 2:30am

    *puts on his jediesque robes*
    When you can herd the lolcats you are ready to control the interwebs young one.
    In the meantime, stop clicking on shortened links they send you, they are all Goatse redirects.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    MeryR (profile), Apr 4th, 2012 @ 12:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Suja, I liked your story! And I liked Deckard Cain's infamous quote too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    Chargone (profile), Apr 8th, 2012 @ 5:12am

    Re: Re: Control vs Chaos

    it's also a vague mix of russian and german spy archtypes, complete with silly accents, from memory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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