Anyone can set up a web site and point to all the other web pages. Everyone is a publisher. Everyone is a peer. That’s why it’s called a web. Individuals knit themselves together by linking to one another. Everyone tends his or her own little epistemological garden, growing ideas from seed and sharing them with anyone who comes by.
Making a shift to a more democratized internet won’t be easy. Once you start to rally your energies toward a more open future, you will be shocked by the forces arrayed against you; the intransigence of the people who want to buy and sell your information; the amorality of the hackers who play with millions of people for sport; the cold, endemic corruption of intellectual property and patent law; the infinite protections for copyright. It can get a person down.
We could still live in that decentralized world, if we wanted to. Despite the rise of the all-seeing database, the core of the internet remains profoundly open. I can host it from my apartment, on a machine that costs $35. You can link to me from your site. Just the two of us. This is an age of great enterprise, no time to think small. Yet whatever enormous explosion tears through our digital world next will come from exactly that: an individual recognizing the potential of the small, where others see only scale.
“You know how an architect doesn’t just design the visual façade of a building, but the whole thing? – from the materials to internal construction, how people navigate the space, and how the building as a whole will affect the environment and the people in and around it? That’s what I do, but for software.”
"We lost public spaces. Online public spaces. Facebook and Google are shopping malls, but we think they are parks!"
I’ve come to think of software applications as a form of digital architecture: some are places of concentration, others of collaboration, others clearly just for fun. Software’s emotional dimension is crucial: how it feels dictates how it’s used. (Architects hire environmental psychologists; tech companies hire user-experience researchers.) Microsoft Word is the quiet room at the university library; personal Gmail is a dirty kitchen, yesterday’s plates stacked next to the sink; Twitter is an overcrowded bar. Throughout the day, I’ll move from room to room, alternating between solitude and socializing, work and play.
This got me thinking about the internet as landscape, or open space within network infrastructure. The internet was once a wilderness, but has been over-developed, and because of this we’ve lost areas to simply exist. Tools for sharing photos have turned into platforms for sharing things that more closely resemble personal ads. Tools for communicating with friends are used to extract taste profiles and create filter bubbles to encourage constant consumption and endless engagement. I wonder what a conservationist movement for the open web could look like
If we only look through the interface, we cannot appreciate the ways in which it shapes our experience. We should be able to enjoy the illusion of the interface as it presents us with a digital world. But if we cannot also step back and see the interface as a technical creation, then we are missing half of the experience that new digital media can offer.
(Jay David Bolter, Diane Gromala: Windows and Mirrors (2003), p 27)