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Policy, Politics, and the Local Internet

Christian Sandvig

Today, those who hope to transform society have a wide range of technologies at their disposal, not least the Internet. Yet some time ago, Thomas More set out to transform society using only an egg incubator. In the book that provided the genre of utopianism with its name, More’s 16th century Latin best seller Utopia (1516/ 1965), technology appears only glancingly. The perfectly happy Utopians thought that the only implication of the egg incubator was eggs: More’s imaginary future was made possible not through technology but through social organization. Five hundred years later, it seems that the implications of technology are more than eggs, and technology is thought to produce transformative social change. Each of the articles in this volume considers change and the Internet: specifically, how those in different societies have tried to define it, predict it, use it, and control how it can be used. Each of these articles also addresses utopianism, and tries to find the cultural locations where our visions of Internet technology make their home. This research puzzles over the interpenetration of technology and social organization. Taken together, these three stories tell us how the Internet in St. Petersburg is a different Internet than the one in Washington, D.C. or Singapore. Even if the wires and computers are identical, each culture uses the Internet and public policy to pursue a private utopia. In these accounts, while everyone cares about progress, one nation dreams of a new capitalism, another of a streamlined public opinion. Thomas More’s Utopians dreamed of many things, but eggs and technology were merely footnotes. (Continue Reading)