Monday, October 29, 2012

Reinventing "The Politics of the Internet"

Since the Internet has technically been around for decades, it's surprising to me to see that people are only now realizing its potential.  In the previous reading, Lessig had described the Internet as the ultimate example of "the commons", where the resources are free for anyone to use.  This is exactly how the Internet is being used: access to information free (at least, mostly free) and the ability to publish content is open to anyone and everyone.  Castell talks a lot about the Internet and its relation in political dynamics.  Some may suggest increased access to information leads to a more democratic society, but Castell argues the Internet is dominated with media politics, thus changing the concept of free information into a messy political scheme controlled by politicians.  This might be a topic of importance, but I think a more interesting use of the Internet lies beyond the itty-gritty details of our American politics.  Many Americans may think the use of the Internet (specifically the World Wide Web) benefits mostly ourselves, seeing how the common belief is that the Internet, along with most modern technology, is a Western innovation.  Little do we know that the Internet allows us to share the same network as people across the globe - people who are using the Internet for some seriously impacted purposes.

Castell touches on this by discussing the rise of "noopolitick" and cyberspace (when combined it's dubbed as  "noosphere"), but even then he's talking about cyberspace's power-making abilities as tools for institutions.  Contrasting with these organized institutions he mentions (governments, international organizations, business firms, NGOs, etc), informal groups and individuals have been using the power of the Internet to accomplish great things.  In 2009, Robert Hansen developed a software called Slowloris, used to block access to specific websites.  Slowloris is unique from other hacking software because it sends a broken request therefore stalling the server which prevents other Internet traffic from being affected, instead of jamming an extreme amount of access requests on a server.  This software was used to shut down the Iranian government website for the Iranian election without interfering with the internet access for Iranian protesters.  Another example is CryptoCat, developed by 21-year old Lebanese hacker Nadim Kobeiss.  CryptoCat is a software that encrypts a chat room making it impossible for unwanted guests to decrypt the conversation - specifically made with the intention of allowing Arab activists to talk online in complete privacy.  The same Internet we use is being used by other people in ways that may facilitate positive change in that time and place. 

Personally, I find these uses of the Internet way more profound than the United States' use of it for political strategy, as Castell discusses.  Maybe Castell wasn't focusing on international uses of the Internet, or maybe its potential uses weren't really quite known at the time the article was published.  I'm really hoping people start looking at how the Internet can really be used to make change, and capitalize on this resource we have in front of us. 


  1. I like the examples you provided about the political use of the Internet in cultures other than the U.S. Your post reminded me of an issue that was discussed a lot in the news a while ago -- that if there is war in the future, rather than fighting with man-made armies, the world would be prone to cyberwar. This cyberwar would involve the most powerful nations hacking into the computing systems of their rival nations, and could cause greater harm than the traditional man-to-man wars. The Internet has great influence in politics, with all the information that it has gathered over the years, and we have to be careful so as to prevent it from becoming a tool for negative use.

    1. Thanks for bringing up "cyberwar"... we didn't get to talk about this in class, since it comes up toward the end of the Castells reading, but it's an important concept (one that has also been called information warfare). If anyone wants to learn more, see the work of Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood on "infowar" or Paul Edwards on the military origins of computing.

  2. Christine, thanks for the great examples (related to today's discussion of tactical media and hacktivism). And FYI, it's Castells, not Castell (everyone seems to be leaving off the last "s"!). To be fair to Castells, he has written extensively about network society in other contexts and is himself Spanish (see this interview that Castells did post-Arab Spring).