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<nettime> Writing Internet History discussed in American Historical Revi
Ronda Hauben on Mon, 29 Mar 1999 05:30:18 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Writing Internet History discussed in American Historical Review


      The Internet has come of age :-) A review article on writing
Internet history appeared in the December 1998 issue of the 
American Historical Review.

      Observing that currently there is no mention of the Internet 
and little mention of computers in U.S. history books, an essay on 
"Writing Internet History" suggests that this will and should change.

In his review essay in, Roy Rosenzweig looks at 4 recent books about 
the history and development of the Internet and discusses them and the 
significance they have to developing a historiography of the Internet.

The books he includes are "Where Wizards Stay Up Late", "Transforming
Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon, 1962-1986",
"The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold
War America", and "Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the 
Internet".  (He also mentions a few other books in his comments or notes.)

The review essay looks at the social context of the Internet and of
Usenet and recognizes that this is a vital aspect to consider.

He says about "Netizens", it offers an interpretive perspective that
should be central to any future Net history...They argue that the Internet
has created a new kind of citizen, the "netizens," who they define as
"people who decide to devote time and effort into making the Net, this
new part of the world, a better place" -- "a regenerative and vibrant
community and resource." The Haubens see the democratic nature of
the network growing out of its grass-roots source in the people who
created Usenet.

Following are some quotes from Rosenzweig's essay in the American
Historical Review:

"Crocker and the Haubens suggest alternative contextual frame to that
emphasized by Edwards, who puts the rise of digital computing (and
implicitly the Internet) solely within the Establishment 1960s of 
the Vietnam War and the Cold War."

"Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie, the bearded and longhaired Bell
Labs' programmers who, in 1969, developed Unix, the operating system
behind Usenet, later described themselves as seeking 'a system
around which a fellowship could form'."

"In different ways, both Levy and the Haubens help us to see that the
more profound challenge to this 'open' vision of the Internet that
was rooted (at least in part) in the 1960s came not from its
heritage in the Defense Department but rather from an alternative
closed system -- corporate capitalism."

"In the 1980s, when most forms of publicly owned goods and sevices --
from public schools and public housing to public parks -- were 
in decline and an ideology of privatization and deregulation was n
ascendance, it seemed like conventional wisdom to turn this public
utility over to private ownership."

"Yet this synthesis retains its own internal tensions and contradictions.
While free marketeers today celebrate the Internet as the home of 
'people's capitalism,' it also seems headed down the road to oligopoly.
Three companies--the newly merged MCI WorldCom, Sprint, and Cable &
Wireless -- probably control three quarters of the Internet backbone."

"Yet the road toward monopolization and centralized control is not
preordained. The current antitrust cases against Microsoft and Intel
-- or, less plausibly, the revival of popular anti-monopoly sentiments --
might alter the corporate landscape. In general the tendencies 
toward both open and closed systems that have shaped the Internet from
its origins remain with us today."

"The degree to which a populist and democratic Internet survives and 
flourishes depends on larger social and political contexts."

" The future remains uncertain. But it is clear that any history of the 
Internet will have to locate this story within its social, political
and cultural contexts."

"Such a profound and complex development cannot be divorced from
the idosyncratic and personal visions of some scientists and 
bureaucrats whose sweat and dedication got the project up and 
running, from the social history of the field of computer science,
from the Cold Warriors who provided massive government funding
of computers and networking as tools for fighting nuclear and 
conventional war, and from the countercultural radicalism that sought
to redirect technology toward a more decentralized and 
non-hierarchical vision of society."


--------

The essay is helpful as it focuses on the social aspects of the 
Internet and this is at a time when there are new plans being made
to turn key aspects of the Internet over to private industry (namely
ICANN), and this is being done with little or no regard for the 
social aspects and nature of the Internet. Thus it is helpful to 
see a broadening of the public debate on the issue of the nature 
of the Internet and the vision for its future that is the vision 
we want.

Ronda
ronda {AT} ais.org

Also the author of the article Roy Rosenzweig said he cannot post
the article but he will send a copy to those who request it. 
Write me and I will forward the request to him. He asks what
format you prefer the article in as well.


                  Netizens: On the History and Impact
                    of Usenet and the Internet
                http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netbook
                also in print edition ISBN 0-8186-7706-6
                published by IEEE Computer Society Press

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