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Cory Doctorow on The Wondrous World of the Early Internet & How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism
JULY 31ST, 2022 | 44:11 | E161
Pioneering blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow has been an activist for online freedom since the early days of the history of the internet. He has long been one of the major voices opposing restrictive copyright and corporate domination, and a visionary defending a pluralistic online world where eccentricity and individuality are allowed to flourish. In books like Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future (which, like all of his books, is available in full for free), Doctorow has shown what an internet created by the people, unconstrained by intellectual property law, Digital Rights Management, and monopolistic corporate gatekeeping, could be like.
In this conversation, Doctorow joins to discuss the importance of a democratic internet, and his recent book How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, which argues that many people misidentify the main problem with what is called “surveillance capitalism,” assuming that the problem is that corporations are amassing to manipulate us the power through intrusive collection of Big Data. In fact, Doctorow argues, the problem is less about a particular thing these corporations can do to us and more about the fact that monopolistic tech companies are in control in the first place. This has important implications, because it means that we cannot just regulate what companies do with our data, we have to fundamentally redistribute power over the internet. In this conversation, we talk about how Wikipedia provides an alternative vision for a participatory internet where the rules are set by users and there is oversight over governance. We do not need better and more benevolent Zuckerbergs. We need what Doctorow calls the pluralistic internet.
“Hegemonic internet” today versus pluralistic internet
Internet start aligned with cessation of antitrust enforcement – 1982 AT&T
(Cough, current news: Penguin – Simon & Schuster merger court case)
Today we keep talking about how to make “the lord of the manor” better rather than how to get rid of them
What is the failure mode? <– way to evaluate platforms and systems
Cultural flattening? (versus quirkiness of early internet)
Formalism of internet e.g. TikTok duet format = imposed by platform
Expansive opportunity of ebook format — can be 3 or 1000 pages — Wikipedia has built-in
Formal adventurism / playfulness e.g. “slow TV”
Used to have consentual formalism — community defined rather than platform/ corporate
–> more editorial freedom, less creative freedom
Can you give meaningful consent if you can’t leave a platform (because there’s nowhere else to be with other people)?
Control of platforms is more important issue than collecting our data because they can control our discourse, the information we receive (e.g. Google Answers) and what we can use (e.g. iOS app store)
Band together against monopoly across industries — tech not the only area, though a place to start