📑 To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks

Bookmarked To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks by Eli Pariser (WIRED)

We need public spaces, built in the spirit of Walt Whitman, that allow us to gather, communicate, and share in something bigger than ourselves.

Eli Pariser reflects upon Walt Whitman’s creation of Fort Greene Park in 1846 and suggests we need an online version of a shared public space. He suggests that there are three problems with the current space: it encourages a frictionless experience, unequal by design and  the lack of maintenance/governance. Pariser discusses three challenges that need to be overcome in the creation of such a space: funding, talent and will.

Private spaces and businesses are critical for a flourishing digital life, just as cafés, bars, and bookstores are critical for a flourishing urban life. But no communities have ever survived and grown with private entities alone. Just as bookstores will never serve all the same community needs as a public library branch, it’s unreasonable to expect for-profit corporations built with “addressable markets” in mind to accommodate every digital need.

Alongside and between the digital corporate empires, we need what scholars like Ethan Zuckerman are calling “digital public infrastructure.” We need parks, libraries, and truly public squares on the internet.

This reminds me of Michael Caulfield’s discussion of the garden and the stream and Ethan Zuckerman’s work on digital public infrastructure. It was also interesting to read about the place of libraries. This had me thinking about Greg McVerry’s idea of borrowing/renting domain space from the local library.

In his commentary, John Naughton spoke about the rise of the automated public sphere, rather than the one that was hoped for.

When the internet arrived, many of us thought it would provide a virtual space that would be like Whitman’s concept, except on a global scale. In my case, I saw it as the first instantiation of Jürgen Habermas’s concept of the “public sphere”. With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, this looks like utopianism, but it was real enough at the time. The problem was that it blissfully underestimated the capacity of private corporations to colonise cyberspace and create what the legal scholar Frank Pasquale designated an “automated public sphere” – ie, a collection of privately owned spaces (walled gardens) that we know as social media.

In a different take, Richard Flanagan references John Clare and his writing about the enclosure movement in Britain in 19th century to privatize common waste. For Flanagan, we are going through a second great enclosure, where these platforms are enclosing our emotions, soul and fear.

I wonder if that makes someone like Kicks Condor a modern John Clare?

One response on “📑 To Mend a Broken Internet, Create Online Parks”

  1. Isn’t this a great post Aaron, I’ve been re reading it over and over. I love how you link it to Greg’s @jgmac1106 domains from the library idea.
    It is a tricky problem to get to a truly public space from our current private and commercial ones? I recall an idea that I think was talked about in Scotland about giving everyone a domain name when they were born linked to some sort of identifier. Something like that could be linked to different services at different times and deal with the fast pace changes in internet services.

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