Can we get our internet back now please?

The internet was meant to be different. No one would own the internet. No one could own the internet. The internet belonged to all of us. So how did it all go wrong?

News & Analysis
Mark Zuckerberg panic face

Illustration by Cris Vector

An excerpt of this piece was first published in June 2020 in Adbusters, an international not-for-profit magazine produced by a global collective of artists and activists who want to 'shake up complacent consumer culture'.

Big oil. Big tobacco. Big pharma. How did we let ‘big tech’ happen? You would have thought humanity would learn its lesson. That nothing good comes of the mass accumulation and concentration of power into the hands of so few.

The internet was meant to be different. No one would own the internet. No one could own the internet. It was supposed to belong to all of us.

It promised a new psychedelic infrastructure for humankind. The original Silicon Valley pioneers dropped LSD and opened Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’ by building the 20th century synapses that would connect humanity. Maybe not literally, but almost, we were wired into each other’s minds. No longer was your community defined by anything as limiting and 19th century as ‘geography’. The internet rendered geography - borders, countries, continents, oceans - kind of irrelevant. Heck, we laid undersea fibre cables across those oceans for global human connectivity. Why? Because the force of human imagination and need to connect was so powerful. The internet really was going to take humanity to a more transcendent level.

An excerpt from Adbusters issue 150: 'Will Capitalism Implode?'

But maybe that was a bunch of hippy horseshit in the end. If it was a trip, maybe it was a bad trip, not opening the doors of perception, but instead opening Huxley’s other door, to a Brave New World.

And this brave new world is a technological miasma. Beyond our control, and beyond the comprehension of us tech optimists, somewhere along the way the internet lost its edge, and became about monetising your clicks and swipes, buying and selling data about your clicks and swipes, getting you algorithmically addicted to click and swipe some more. All of this to build up shitty and spurious advertising profiles about you, and to misquote Tyler Durden, ’to sell you shit you don’t need, with money you don’t have’. Thinking about it now, wasn’t it always inevitable that surveillance capitalism would eat the internet? I guess we have 2020 hindsight now.

So can we get our internet back? Can we reclaim its anarchic spirit?

We haven’t lost faith that the internet can be what it was supposed to be. But how do we get there? It’s not today’s ideas that will save us. It’s tomorrow’s ideas that will help us to be free to be human.