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.