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Mapping Out The Space: “Zittrainism” and More

December 8, 2009

Image from an emerging conversation with Graham Webster about how to start to map out the intellectual space about the internet beyond the Berkman School by using the old school polysci trick of putting everything into a 2×2 grid. Here, we’re varying the first two pillars/assumptions of the Berkman School, holding all else constant. For the first assumption, we vary whether or not the group of assumptions has relatively greater faith and emphasis on users or institutions in shaping the web. For the second, we vary whether or not the group of assumptions places importance on “The Internet” as a particular set of features and characteristics, or is more agnostic between various forms for different purposes.

Doing so seems to make a neato variety of positions fall out.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2009 7:30 pm

    Very cool, and I’m already thinking in 2×2′s for my next thought. My first reaction is that I might want to chart “descriptive” and “prescriptive.” I like the Internet vs. internet distinction.

    Wondering whether “cybertarianism” is really agnostic about the outcomes. Do you mean it in Rebecca’s sense or something related? Is this from the perspective of regulators or students?

  2. July 17, 2010 3:00 am

    Listening to the new+related Berkman podcast, a couple of thoughts struck me:

    1. On the classification of perspectives on the Internet: with respect, it seems that the population sample from which you’re attempting to derive this classification system is heavily skewed in the direction of “application-level” Internet developers and “arms-length” Internet analysts and scholars (lawyers, professors, journalists, etc.). Although one can learn a great deal about the Internet in the course of engaging in all of these activities (and some distance may be important for the appearance if not the achievement of “objectivity”), I suspect that a broader range of perspectives might be revealed if your population sample included individuals who are more directly engaged in the development/deployment and operation of Internet protocols and infrastructure, i.e., the lower-level technical constructs that make the application-level constructs (technically) possible.

    2. On the (podcast) claim that there is no usefully comparable phenomenon or guiding analogy for understanding the Internet (and DW’s corresponding claim that non-recognition of such parallels makes one an “exceptionalist”): When one peers under the hood, the Internet actually looks quite a lot (or perhaps exactly) like a new kind of “liquidity mechanism,” i.e., a set of technologies, formal institutions, incentive mechanisms, and habitual practices that facilitate the dynamic, demand-driven exchange of packetizable things (information, communications, “content”, etc., etc.) between an ever-expanding universe of exchanging parties. On this view, the clear parallel is the only other liquidity mechanism (a.k.a. “medium of exchange”) that has been discovered and very widely adopted in human history to date, i.e., the technology “money,” along with the institutions that coordinate the (hopefully, sustainable) quantity and flow of monetary instruments, and secondarily all of the innumerable “applications” that the monetary technology-based economy makes possible. Under the hood, core Internet technologies look like an amazingly apt liquidity mechanism for sustaining an economy that is dominated by nonrival/abundant goods — much as one might observe that monetary technologies were quite well-adopted (and hence very widely adopted) to mediate exchanges of value when the economy was dominated by physical/scarce/rival goods.

    Granted, most economists who think about money a lot seem to think that it’s “medium of exchange” function is unique (for now) so perhaps this perspective represents a kind of second-order Internet exceptionalism… albeit one which is empirically grounded and provides a variety of postdictive and predictive insights…

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