Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everyone is Equal and the Mail Must Go Through

That is the message that is the internet.

This is my rant, that I know is very much in the vein of Marshal McLluhan's "The Medium is the Message."  Wikipedia's take on this work seems a bit off to me and I won't link to it.  McLuhan was saying that the ultimate message of a medium is the medium itself.  Broadcast radio or television is a few-to-all message.  "The few of us decide what we provide to everyone."

The message that is contained in the very lowest layers, the autonomic system, of the internet is this: "Everyone is equal and the mail must go through." This was "an accident, really" because it was needed during the Cold War.  Parts of the network might get blown up and the surviving parts would have to cooperate and reroute things so that messages could get through.  This is serving us very well today because servers are always crashing and companies go out of business, but the mail goes through.  Massachusetts moment: a lot of this autonomic layer was created near Fresh Pond in Cambridge at BBN.  A bit later at BBN, at my first real job, I troubleshot some of the very first internet routers.

You probably connect to the internet through a cable company or a phone company.  These companies are trying to extort money from popular internet sites because "we provide the customers to you."  They want to slow down your connections to video sites that they don't own, unless they pay the extortion money, etc.  They want to block access to whatever they want to or whatever the government (UK, China, US) dictates.  This is what the "Network Neutrality" legal fight is about.  There is no real question here at all.  "Everyone is equal and the mail must go through."  No tampering.  No reading everybody's mail.  No extortion.  These companies must understand that they are providing a utility like water or electricity or we have to replace them and they will just die.  "The mail must go through."  I tell you: one antenna per housetop, no access companies at all.  The technology is ready. 

I cannot tell you how deeply this is written on my bones.

John Gilmore famously said "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."  He was preaching to the choir, so I'll interpret.  If all of the mail, everyone's mail, everyone's opinion, is not getting through, well, the internet is broken.  We will wake up and re-route around the problem.

The internet does not consist of machines.  It's made up of people.'s_law The people who feel this most deeply are the people of my age who were exposed to the message before the public implications of that message were even understood.  For us, we'll carry it on our backs if we have to; the mail must go through.  You'll see gals and guys of my age, all the way down to pre-teens, running around with wires and antennas yelling things like "Maybe we can route through Cleveland!" and "What about Canada?"

I think the long term future of the internet is secure, but there are going to be huge ugly legal and political battles.  Nations and major corporations and business models will die.  The message that is the internet is not the message of corporate interests.  It is not compatible with a top-down government.  I think it will get very ugly.

Internet people think about the very long term.  Electricity might become scarce so some are raising pigeons: It works.  Today, avian data transfer speed is increasing at three times the rate of increase in electronic internet speeds.

1 comment:

  1. Found your link from Schneier's blog. I agree with you as do many who remember the internet before the mid-2000s. We must all resist corporate/government attempts to turn the internet into Television or Radio. It'll require more than just a grass-roots mesh type of network, but also end-to-end encryption so that those who do achieve communications independence aren't just shut down like pirate radio stations. If it gets 'bad enough' the government will eventually just declare unlicensed networks illegal, as with Radio. So anonymity will be important.