Several years ago, I said to an acquaintance “The internet is over, you know. Google and Facebook ruined it.”, to which he replied, as one might expect, with something to the effect of “what the hell are you even talking about?”, proceeding to explain to me how innovation was still fueling billions of dollars of new internet-related business, blah blah blah. He didn’t realize he was actually supporting my point. I think Scott Malcomson, the author of Splinternet: How Geopolitics and Commerce are Fragmenting the World Wide Web, would have understood what I was getting at, even though he might provide a lot more nuance. So much nuance, in fact, that he wrote a whole book about it.
If you think you know the history of the internet and are reasonably on top of the nature of it in today’s world, do yourself the favor of picking up a copy of the book to find out just how much you don’t know. Even if you’re aware of the Defense Department origins of the internet via ARPANET and other projects, Malcomson digs quite a bit deeper, and fleshes out the back-and-forth cycles of privatization and governmentalizing of the internet over the last few decades, explaining the hacker/hippy culture of tech innovators like Wozniak, Jobs, and others, the current relationships between the NSA, Google, Amazon, and other companies, and how the last decade has seen a shift from a highly civil, globally-accessible playground of ideas to a set of walled gardens sliced up by huge tech companies, with the collection of personal data at the core of it all.