1994: The Future of the Net

Between 1993 an 1997 I was a university lecturer teaching media studies. I recently found a lecture I wrote in 1994, introducing the Internet to students taking a module entitled “Communication and Information Technology”.  It’s quite precient… Here’s an extract:

In the Industrial Age, media production has been the reserve of powerful institutions – but the Internet makes media production and dissemination by individuals – those people untainted by McLuhans “environmental rules” of industrial production– a possibility.

Effectively, those who were traditionally consumers can become authors of their own material. In an age where innovation has supposedly dried up, when the modern project is said to have failed – this redistribution of power is a significant argument in supporting the proposal that we are about to embark on a new project; a new and electronic renaissance – profitable for those individuals with the skill and foresight to capitalise on it.

The root problem is that the success or otherwise of this project depends on the Internet’s infrastructure – an aging network which corporate media interests are already gathering over, like vultures.

They’re promising to invest in and rebuild its rotting connections, bolster up its ailing support structure and bring it up to date.

The paradox is that in order for the Internet to structurally survive – it will need commercial investment. Microsoft, for example, are already promising to rewrite its out-of-date control protocols. If the Internet becomes wholly commercial though, it won’t survive as a medium for self-publishing.

It may well end up as the “Information Superhighway” of recently coined cliché, which people will use to access video on demand or shop in virtual spaces – and they’ll pay for the privilege. They’ll never know the anarchic joy of the World Wide Web or the thrust and parry of Usenet.

However, there are counter indicators. Commercial enterprises have been met with indifference, hacked or ignored – while strategies like the Internet Underground Music Archive thrive under the Net’s ad hoc leadership of prosumers, side stepping the rules of industry.

The Internet’s real future lies in the strength of its users – and their ability to continue innovating in the face of institutional pressure to meet mainstream business models.

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