Opinion: Rethinking the Internet

Loz Kaye's picture

There is a joke from where I come from: A man is out lost wandering on Dartmoor desperately trying to get home. Eventually he comes across a farm. He asks the farmer “how do you get to Plymouth from here?” The farmer replies “I wouldn't start from here if I were you.”

  I didn't say it was a good joke. But it is good advice for rethinking the Internet.    All too often the future of the Internet has been framed as how to serve outmoded business models, clamping down on sharing of information for a whole host of reasons, and who will be key industry players. If you will forgive me for conflating the net and the web, as is in fact the reality now, we shouldn't start from here. Because the web didn't start from here.   Tim Berners Lee and others have recently shared the Queen Elizabeth prize for engineering. A good moment to remember that the aim of this project was to facilitate sharing and updating of information. To rethink, we should return to this principle.   It is this sharing of knowledge that is the core of the approach of the Pirate Party. We have the potential to educate and empower ourselves as never before. Our first concern must be whether our children are discovering Beethoven and the Bhagvad Gita, whether they can get at the works of Darwin and Diana Ross, not what they are paying for them.    We must find ways to deal with future threats to participating in shared culture. The migration to ebooks must not price the poor out of reading, or be dogged with unnecessarily restrictive DRM. There must be a real commitment to open access to academic research tax payers have funded.      The future of the net has to be as much about society and politics as technology and business. Because each decision we makewill have political consequences, consequences that will have a profound an impact on our society.   We must also remember that right now people are being left out of the network, and they are the same people that have been left behind in each stage of history. Women are 23% behind men in developing nations in terms of being online. Many rural areas lag behind in broadband provision.  Yet the benefits of inclusion are clear, a UK intergenerational web mentoring project Gen2Gen found 90% of older people taking part reduced feelings of isolation and increased social contact.    Growing inclusion should be a key shared aim going forward. whether like me you want more web activists or simply more customers. It should be clear to everyone that policies based on exclusion such as “3 strikes laws” directly undermine this strategy.   The fact that measures that seek to limit access to the net are on the table at all, is an indication of just how much political thinking about the Internet has been skewed by the 'piracy' narrative. The creative 'industries' and the culture sector are not synonymous with copyright, whatever some would have you believe, look at the role of government culture funding and it becomes clear that there is a lot of public money and interest at stake too. While these are a valued parts of our economy and perhaps more significantly our national wellbeing, the 'Industry' only represent a fraction of those of us who are involved in creating music, art, culture and knowledge. Nor are they key financial players when it comes to the infrastructure of the Internet itself, they certainly should not be the main focus of digital policy and vision.   We should be reevaluating, because this is what the evidence we have gathered so far tells us. As we shift to ever more digital consumption of cultural products, the picture is no longer the same as it was just a few years ago. It is no longer a case of digital 'piracy'  displacing physical sales,or more accurately,  the inability of key players to embrace technological and social change. The conclusion of the latest report for the European Commission is that ”illegal music downloads have little or no effect on digital music sales”.   The fact that we are still talking about this is in no small way due to this being the main battleground of opposing forces. Between those who primarily see the Internet as a vehicle for commercial gain, and those of us who see it as a vehicle for public good. The last few years with SOPAACTA,Megaupload, Pirate Bay and the rest have been frankly pretty poisonous for us all. We should now try to see our way to a post-piracy debate digital policy.   If nothing else surely it should be evident how counterproductive having Internet policy driven by the pirate hunt is. It creates anger amongst Internet users, it has turned a decade's worth of consumers against the music and film industry, it places unreasonable burdens on ISPs and undermines the business philosophies of telecom companies. It plays to a lazy kind of politics. it's tempting for our MPs to hold ISPs, search providers and web hosts, to blame for a wider and wider range of society's ills rather than tackling root causes.      It really is time to move the debate on for all our sakes to what is beneficial and productive, from that which is divisive and self defeating.   Sharing knowledge, growing inclusion, increasing participation. The other benefits, economic and social will flow from these principles. Now that sounds like a good place to start to me.