46 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2001
This Essay reviews Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, and Andrew Shapiro, The Control Revolution: How the Internet is Putting People in Charge and Changing the World We Know. Lessig and Shapiro each rebut the libertarian impulse of first generation cyberspace scholarship, but their books reveal some fundamental differences between them as well. After probing Lessig's and Shapiro's central themes, I examine three further issues that their analyses and the developing Internet raise: (1) digital technology's capacity to enable individuals to customize their information input, leading, some fear, to the Balkanization of public discourse; (2) the purported potential role of electronic "smart agents" in enhancing user power vis-a-vis sellers and commercial actors, and in thus recovering the libertarian vision of the Internet; and (3) the Internet's potential for building community and how that role might fit within a larger sphere of democratic politics and civil society.
Keywords: Internet, cyberspace, First Amendment, public discourse, electronic agents, smart agents, community, civil society
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By Mark Nadel