It’s time that citizens articulate a vision for a civic Internet that could compete with the dominant corporatist vision. Do we want to preserve anonymity to help dissidents or do we want to eliminate it so that corporations stop worrying about cyber-attacks? Do we want to build new infrastructure for surveillance—hoping it will lead to a better shopping experience—that would be abused by data-hungry governments?
Oddly enough, the political institutions needed to act on such a civic vision are forming even before the requisite ideology is in place; the electoral success of the Pirate Parties across parts of Europe is an encouraging sign. But most such movements are simultaneously too radical and not radical enough. It’s not just geeks and tech-savvy young people who need to think hard about what an alternative civic Internet may look like; for such visions to have any purchase on society, they need to originate from (and incorporate) much broader swathes of the population.
In fact, there is hardly any aspect of political life—in domestic and foreign policy alike—that would not be affected by the Net. Finding a way to articulate a critical stance on these issues before technology giants like Facebook usurp public imagination with their talk of “frictionless sharing” should be top priority for anyone concerned with the future of democracy. A paradise for citizens and a purgatory for consumers: That’s the Internet we can believe in! Occupy the Net, anyone?