[iDC] Whose Future Internet?

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Feb 26 12:02:16 EST 2006

<I summed up what I learned from the recent CAA panel (the I2
representatives could not make it) and our exchanges here. 
best, Trebor>

What defines the future of the Internet? The promises of the lustrous,
technological future sell much better than the clumsy devices and
network architectures in front of us. Internet2 is one of the goodies in
the bazaar of the future. What is it? If you speak acronym you just call
it I2. 

In his Slate.com article "Internet 2. It's better, it's faster. You
can't use it." Alexander Russo points to The Great Firewall of the
University. Depending on location it costs about $35.000 to set up
Internet2 in your consortium. After 10 years of its existence Internet2
can be accessed mainly in research universities. In the comfort of the
academic bastion you can download The Matrix in 30 seconds. I trust that
we can all count but Internet-2- is not the logical next step in the
development of the Internet. It is one aspect of the media landscape
that is to come. What good is I2 for distributed creativity? Would we
have to re-write the history of networked aesthetics if Internet2 would
have been broadly available throughout the 1990s?

The strategic tag cloud of the future also includes terms like The
Internet of Things, RFID, Web2.0, Grid Computing, LambdaRail, and many
others. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This
logic applies here. Physical computing enthusiasts see a world of
networked things. Others predict a world of networked computers linked
from node to node. Academics who helped establish the expensive I2 push
it as the future. Whose interests and values run on the protocols of our
networks? Whose politics are written into the hardware and protocols of

In the recent debate over Internet neutrality in front of US Congress
the executives of telecommunication companies proposed the creation of a
two-lane Internet where the the Yahoos and Googles of this world could
run on higher bandwidth. Such multi-track Internet would leave startups
in the cold. Internet2 representatives cleverly inserted themselves into
this debate by arguing that their ³Abilene network does not give
preferential treatment to anyone¹s bits." It is true that bandwidth
limits would not be an issue with I2. But the tempting allocation of
huge bandwidth is not all that innocent at all. Government,
universities, and corporations invested in this private, and centrally
managed entity swore to get a right the second time around. The politics
of Internet2 is hardwired into its routers. The routers of current
TCP/IP Internet merely direct data packages between client and server in
the fastest way possible. The routers of Internet2 have the built-in
ability to filter content. The tempting carrot is bandwidth and with it
we swallow the hook of Digital Rights Management. Among the more than 70
corporate bodies that invest in I2 are The Motion Picture Association of
America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
They are keen to develop a future business model for digital content
distribution. In April 2005 the RIAA sued students at 18 universities
over the use of the I2 file sharing network i2hub. It was promptly shut

The pockets of openness and sharing are central to the current Internet.
I2 is not merely what it promises (the academic land of the fast and
free). Freedom does not mean the freedom to pay for movies on demand.
Putting a leash on what works in the current Internet would cripple it.
The sleeping dogs of I2 have not been activated yet. But commercial
applications of I2 are still 5-10 years away. We should be afraid if the
government has any ability to stop content that speeds through our
networks. What is important to us about the Internet is threatened by
I2. I am not arguing away the surveillance and data mining or any others
evils of the current setup but I2 would kill what we love about the
Internet. It would be tragic if Internet2 would take over our current
Internet. But this takeover is not likely to happen. I2 is here to stay.
Its most anticipated destiny is networked interactive TV and easier
(cinematic) movie distribution.

What I appreciate about the middle-class household Internet of the
developed world is based on the culture of sharing in the unregulated
commons, free culture (i.e. file sharing, open source culture), cultures
of participation and generosity (i.e. citizen journalism, open archives,
open journals, knowledge repositories), and network culture (i.e. the
ability for self-organized social networks to form). More often than not
we are users *and* producers online. 

The use of I2 for tele-medicine, networked Virtual Reality, games, and
data-heavy science projects makes perfect sense. Slashdot reports
students creating games on I2. But I2 is also said to be good for
multi-cast video conferencing. Mega conferencing? Why, short of being
the leader of an international sect or corporation, would I want to talk
to one thousand people at a time? VoIP and the sea of social software
applications work well to facilitate communication. More bandwidth does
not always mean more meaningful communication.    

More bandwidth also does not make for better art. However, there are new
possibilities. Applications of I2 in the arts include real time video
and musical performance. The obvious downside is its exclusiveness, as
participants need to be on a university campus. At this point n time the
academic doorman gets in the way. The bitter reality of much web-based
real time art is all too often that the online millions need damn good
reasons to come to your "party." Real time projects work socially if an
institution has a long-established history of streaming events. If we
think of art as dialogue then success of an art project is related to
attendance/participation of spectators. It takes much time to develop
such an audience for real time distributed events. Bandwidth does not
solve the participatory challenge. In addition, art may grow better in
the cracks of technological limitations. Well-intentioned preemptive
initiatives like the Marcel Network try to get artists involved in I2
before all its uses are commercially defined.

The debate about the future of the Internet should be defined by the
human uses of the networks and devices that we devise. We shape them and
they, in turn, shape us. The question whose interests and values guide
these technological developments is vital.    



Wikipedia definition Internet2 (I2)

Slate.com article

The Internet of Things


Grid Computing

Gary Bakula on I2

I2 is centrally managed

The University of Illinois at Chicago Electronic Visualization Lab

MIT uses I2 for data-heavy science projects

RIAA about I2

RIAA sues students

i2hub network shut down

I2 art projects

Students create games on  I2

Debate on Internet neutrality


MegaConferene at Penn State

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