What Net Neutrality Means in an Accelerating World
What is this Net Neutrality You Speak Of?
What the heck is "Net Neutrality” in the first place? In a nutshell, it's the concept that all data, regardless of what it contains, should be treated exactly the same, whether this one individual bit of data belongs to a huge corporation, or whether it's a video of your cat being cute. In the midst of all this, it’s really easy to become enamored with a very simplistic point of view: corporations are evil, and trying to take away the rights of the individual.
A good place to begin, if you’re unfamiliar with the issue (as I was until fairly recently), is with Wikipedia's entry on the subject. If you are already familiar with the main concept and the key players, please read on.
Ah, the internet
Government's Role in our Lives, and the Electricity Metaphor
In an extremely simplistic sense, I think there are two main conversations going on, and both are well worth having. The first asks whether more government is a good thing or not. On the one hand, you can certainly make a valid case that government stifles economic growth and freedom. One glance at the TSA and how afraid everyone has become, and how little that has prevented (as compared to the literal years of everyone’s time and money that has been wasted) can give you easy insight into this picture. On the other hand, it’s easy to simply examine data to see that the world is a far, far less violent place now thanks to government (or, more broadly, what I’d call “civilization”). It is, of course, a complicated question, one with multiple layers of information available, but very little knowledge, and precious little wisdom available out there.
The second important conversation, one which I believe is by far the more important of the two, is what exactly the real nature of the internet is. Let’s turn to Jeff Bezos’s electricity analogy briefly. Consider a person living today, about 150 years after the invention of electricity (and less than a century after electricity became commonplace in the average home) without access to electricity. I’d imagine that some people would actually prefer a life without electricity, although most people wouldn’t have the first idea how to survive. I have absolutely no interest in a life without electric power, and it would certainly suck a great deal.
I’m going to borrow Bezos’s metaphor here and describe where I think we are regarding the internet. Right now, we’re right between the 1920s and the 1930s in America, where you didn’t have “power” in your home; you had “light.” You had light instead of power because there weren’t any good electronic devices whatsoever; a washing machine sat on your front porch and was a serious injury hazard, and it would be plugged in via a long cord by screwing it into a light socket back inside the house! That’s essentially where we are right now, right at the turning point where people are starting to invent meaningful, practical devices for use with the internet.
How long will it take for the other 4 billion people to become connected to the Internet?
The Singularity and the Future of the Internet
The next thing that’s really important to understand- that I fully believe very few people are thinking through right now, and it’s so very important – is that as much change as happened in the last 90 years since the tipping point of electricity happened, will happen again in the next 20 years with the internet, and then some. This change with how the internet affects our way of life will cross all paradigms of our existence from the way we learn about things, to the way we communicate with one another (the most important aspect of all), to the way we take a crap. Literally.
I’ll say that again: the next 20 years will easily hold as much fundamental change for our way of life as a species as did the last 90. Imagine a life where virtually nobody had a car, a telephone, a television. The interstate highway system had not yet been developed, and if you wanted to get a message to someone you would pay a telegrapher to send it for you, or you’d send a letter and it would get there in a few days or weeks.
I’ll go a bit further than that and speculate that the next century for humanity holds more change for us as a species than has the last 10,000 years, but that’s another conversation entirely (although very much related to this one).
Information now travels across the globe at the speed of light, give or take the time it takes for the software and hardware to process it. What is most definitely happening right before our eyes is our further integration with technology, a process that has been happening since the instant we evolved into homo sapiens as a species. It is exactly what separates us from all other animals, and we are continuing to evolve today. Everything is subject to the same phenomenon that Moore’s Law describes with unbelievable accuracy (now with more than a century of data to back the phenomenon of accelerating technological change up). Only now we’re at the knee of the exponential curve, and virtually everything has become an information technology – up to and including our very genetic code, as DNA is manipulated in labs on a daily basis.
Back to the guy living in the woods with no power. He’s an outcast, sure, but he can still read the newspapers without power, and communicate with the rest of us, right?
But for the guy with no access to the internet, he is simply going to be left out of the conversation. Not only is he not going to be able to understand what the hell we’re talking about (because nobody will be able to understand it without augmented intelligence), but he’s also not going to be able to live for nearly as long as us (and I don’t mean by a few years, either- I’m talking about a factor of 10 or 100 or even more).
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on the Internet's Future
This is not science fiction; this is the rapidly changing world we are fortunate enough to see unfolding before our eyes. I fully plan to be a part of this expansion of consciousness and intelligence, and I very much want to be a part of the conversation. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest if as many people as possible are also part of the same conversation, because I fully believe that collective intelligence trumps individual intelligence. After all, that’s how we became who we are in the first place- by sharing information with one another.
All of this rambling is essentially to make the point that I’m interested in the long view with regard to any big issue like this, and it’s a view virtually nobody seems to be willing to take. I still don’t have the one right answer, but it’s important to consider fully this long term perspective and step back from the present and examine the true trajectory history takes us on as it is written.