We Need to Challenge Our Feudal Internet
We have not used the net to promote the kind of peer-to-peer economy that challenged feudalism in the 1100s and 1200s.
Douglas Rushkoff is an American media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems.
He is the bestselling author of Present Shock, as well as a dozen other books on media, technology, and culture, including Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc., and most recently Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity. Named one of the world’s ten most influential thinkers by MIT, Rushkoff has made documentaries for PBS Frontline, including Generation Like and The Merchants of Cool, and he is a professor of media theory and digital economics at Queens College, CUNY. He lives in New York and lectures about media, society, and economics around the world.
We have not used the net to promote the kind of peer-to-peer economy that challenged feudalism in the 1100s and 1200s. People had been living for a thousand years as surfs under the lords and they finally developed local currencies and crafts and traveling merchants and they started to develop an economy. And for a century people were getting wealthy and having fun and working less and getting healthy and women were getting tall and men were getting tall.
The problem was, the aristocracy was getting poor because they had always depended on having everybody else just working for them. So as the middle class, the hated bourgeois, arose, the aristocracy, the lords, had to figure out a way to crush them down. So they came up with massively centralized processes like centralized currency and centralized banking and chartered monopolies. They made it illegal to do peer-to-peer exchange, to do peer-to-peer business. They had wars, they killed people, there was blood. They made printing presses, but said "No, your town is not allowed to have a printing press -- only the court can have one." So they enforced by the sword centralized control and monopoly top-down control over processes.
Now we have a net where we have the possibility for peer-to-peer exchange or peer-to-peer value exchange for decentralized business to begin. And we are, once again, repressing that in pretty much every way we know how. And that’s for a lot of reasons. But as America in particular becomes more and more robbed of its ability to retain value, as America comes to realize that it has outsourced everything, not just its work, but its investment and its borrowing and its savings, the people here will start to think, "Wow, we’ve got to somehow liberate ourselves from these transnational corporations that don’t respect our ability to create value and to retain value and to live fruitfully."
So it’s going to be interesting, but once we do that, that’s when we’ll realize, "Oh, the Internet could be used for this..." The internet could be used to trade, it could be used to innovate, it could be used to connect us with other people. It’s not just about promoting seven or eight huge corporations.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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