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The Case for Internet Optimism, Part 1 - Saving the Net from its Detractors

THE NEXT DIGITAL DECADE: ESSAYS ON THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET, p. 57, B. Szoka & A. Marcus, TechFreedom, 2010

34 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2011 Last revised: 31 Jan 2014

Adam D. Thierer

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: December 1, 2010

Abstract

This is the first of two essays making “The Case for Internet Optimism.” It was written by Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. These two essays appeared in the book, "The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet" (2011), which was edited by Berin Szoka and Adam Marcus of Tech Freedom, a digital policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

In these essays, Thierer identifies two schools of Internet pessimism: (1) “Net Skeptics,” who are pessimistic about the Internet improving the lot of mankind; and (2) “Net Lovers,” who appreciate the benefits the Net brings society but who fear those benefits are disappearing, or that the Net or openness are dying.

In this first essay, Thierer focuses on the first variant of Internet pessimism, which is rooted in general skepticism about the supposed benefits of cyberspace, digital technologies, and information abundance. The proponents of this pessimistic view often wax nostalgic about some supposed “good ‘ol days” when life was much better (although they can’t seem to agree when those were). At a minimum, they want us to slow down and think twice about life in the Information Age and how it’s personally affecting each of us. Occasionally, however, this pessimism borders on neo-Ludditism, with some proponents recommending steps to curtail what they feel is the destructive impact of the Net or digital technologies on culture or the economy.

Thierer identifies the leading exponents of this view of Internet pessimism and their works. He traces their technological pessimism back to Plato but argues that their pessimism is largely unwarranted. Humans are more resilient than pessimists care to admit and we learn how to adapt to technological change and assimilate new tools into our lives over time. Moreover, Thierer questions whether we were really better off in the scarcity era when we were collectively suffering from information poverty. Generally speaking, despite the challenges it presents society, information abundance is a better dilemma to be facing than information poverty.

Nonetheless, Thierer argues, we should not underestimate or belittle the disruptive impacts associated with the Information Revolution. He argues, however, that we need to find ways to better cope with turbulent change in a dynamist fashion instead of attempting to roll back the clock on progress or recapture “the good ‘ol days,” which actually weren’t all that good.

Keywords: Economics, Culture, Information, Internet, Digital, Plato, Luddite, Progress, Optimism, Singularity, Machines, Negroponte, Pessimism, Technological, Postman, Optimists, Pessimists

Suggested Citation

Thierer, Adam D., The Case for Internet Optimism, Part 1 - Saving the Net from its Detractors (December 1, 2010). THE NEXT DIGITAL DECADE: ESSAYS ON THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET, p. 57, B. Szoka & A. Marcus, TechFreedom, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1751044

Adam D. Thierer (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3351 Fairfax Drive
4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201-4433
United States

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