Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost makes an urgent argument in The Atlantic that the commercialization and centralization of the internet puts your political and economic well-being at risk. He traces the origin of the internet to the quest for a resilient United States’ communications networks during the Cold War. But the software overlay that giant technology companies created has led to the consolidation of users’ personal data and attention in the hands of just a few companies. Those services are frighteningly vulnerable to hacking and disinformation.
The decentralized internet began as a way to preserve telephone service and military command-and-control in the event of nuclear war.
At the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s, the highly centralized United States’ communications infrastructure relied on major switching hubs – akin to regional airports – that handled telephonic and military messaging. An attack on any hub could have brought down the entire system. In 1962, a researcher at the defense contractor RAND came up with the concept of distributing information through a network of small independent nodes. Under that model, damage in one area would not bring down the whole network. By 1969, engineers in the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) at the Pentagon built on this idea to create a multi-node network of computers called ARPAnet, thus establishing the DNA of the internet you know today.
Early uses of the internet reflected the open and decentralized spirit of its design. Anyone with some technical expertise and access to computing equipment could communicate and publish at will. The advent of the World Wide...
Ian Bogost, professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and co-founder of Persuasive Games LLC.