Two months ago, I bitterly complained about a Wall St. Journal op-ed, which brazenly claimed the government had nothing to do with building the Internet. Well, now we have a fascinating riposte published in the very same organ.
In this Sunday's
WSJ New York Times Magazine, Steven Johnson says that both sides of the argument are wrong:
So was the Internet created by Big Government or Big Capital? The answer is: Neither.
Like many of the bedrock technologies that have come to define the digital age, the Internet was created by...decentralized groups...freely sharing the fruits of their intellectual labor. ... Yes, government financing supported much of the early research. ... But the institutions responsible for the technology itself were neither governments nor private.
Now imagine, for the sake of argument...every single line of code...created through open-source collaborative networks...instantly vanish[ed]. What would happen? ...the Internet and the Web would instantly evaporate. Every...smartphone...would go dark. A massive section of our energy infrastructure would cease to function. ... It would be an event on the scale of a world war or a pandemic.
Johnson goes on to opine that it's far too simplistic to pigeonhole everything as either government- or private-funded; that there's a third way, which roughly translates to open source, or mass collaboration among peers. And that open source is far, far more important to our daily lives than any of us credit.
And you know what? He's absolutely correct. We need some sort of Oscars-style acceptance speech, where we thank everyone who made possible the 21st Century. It'll be an impossibly long list, though. But, in no particular order, here's my humble start...
- Linus Benedict Torvalds
- Eric S. Raymond
- Richard Matthew Stallman
- Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie
- Steve Wozniak (even though Steve Jobs tried to stop him sharing)
- Kenneth Lane Thompson
- Alan Cox
- Larry Wall
- Vint Cerf
- Jonathan Bruce Postel
- Douglas Carl Engelbart
- Marc Lowell Andreessen
- Raymond Samuel Tomlinson
- Alan Mathison Turing
- Van Jacobson
- Tim Berners-Lee
- Everyone who's ever contributed their time to the IETF, IRTF, W3C or other such bodies.
Who would you add?
Richi Jennings , editor of Input Output UK, is also an independent analyst, specializing in blogging, email, spam, security, and other technology topics. His writing has won ASBPE and Neal awards. You can encircle him at +richi, follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be his friend at Facebook.com/richij or just use boring old email: email@example.com.
[Updated 9.26 EDT to fix stupid typo]