t byfield on 3 Oct 2000 05:44:59 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Al Gore and the Internet

antont@an.org (Tue 10/03/00 at 12:20 AM +0300):

> I guess the very nature of the 'net is to allow for various parallel and
> overlapping, even conflicting, worlds - as long as there's "rough
> consensus and running code" as the IETF brilliantly puts it. But as the
> issues have become political, how does this work? Can the societies
> route just route around problems, all having their way? It seems that
> this is not the case.
> There are conflicts. So, I guess this is finally the question I should
> ask (tadaa!): when the groups currently fighting against the WTOs and
> IMFs target ICANN, where do we - the Internet Society - stand?

well, if you believe ICANN's heavyweight critics--milton mueller,
michael froomkin, gordon cook, ellen rony, etc.--ICANN is ISOC's
latest and most successful effort to establish centralized author-
ity over the net. this argument is genealogical: ICANN is, for all
intents and purposes, the same people, the same ideology, the same
pattern of concessions posturing as 'consensus' (a very selective
consensus), and so on. overall, i find the argument quite convinc-
ing; the main ruptures are legal, which is a by-product of ISOC's
earlier attempts' failures.

ISOC has become a curious institution, in that one of its primary
goals was advocacy. but as you know--we've talked about this--the
net needs little or no advocacy now (this varies by region, though 
not by much in most cases), so a basic pillar of ISOC's reason for
being has collapsed. in ICANN's success, a second pillar of ISOC
collapsed: the leadership has moved on. at the LA meeting in nov-
ember, dyson will almost certainly resign as chairman of the board;
and rumor has it that, for various reasons (not least among them
changes in the structure of MCI/WorldCom) that cerf will replace
her. once he's gone over to ICANN, ISOC will be an orphan. and i
suspect that some of the new gTLDs that ICANN will approve--most
notably, .enum--will put the IETF back at front and center as an
agent of change, displacing ISOC, not that the two really have a
lot to do with each other. we saw the early stages of this process
in the 'raven' debate, in which the IETF dealt with the problem of
building wiretappability into TCP/IP protocols; ISOC was nowhere
to be seen. that issue was parochially american at the time, but
the structure of the situation was telling.

in a way, this devolution will be good, because it will allow the
husk of ISOC--which in name still commands a good deal of respect
from national and corporate bureaucrats--to become more flexible
and responsive to the issues and concerns of 'peripheral' nations
and populations. in effect, this devolution will follow the pat-
tern of, say, industrial machinery, which as it ages is sold off
to subsidiaries in second- and third-world countries, where it 
becomes both an engine of change and a 'mechanism of capture,' 
that is, an interface between less-developed countries and over-
devel- opes countries. but ISOC is an institution not a contrap-
tion, so the likely outcome is that it will serve as an armature 
for what one could call a neo-non-alignment pact; but in the age 
of networks, this will likely take the form of flexible coalitions. 

and that brings us back to your question: whither ISOC? i would
hope that this newfound marginality would allow ISOC administrators
in 'peripheral' nations (of which finland is one, nokia notwith-
standing) to exploit whatever is left for the moment of the real/
virtual divide to actively cultivate *truly* alternative (i.e.,
not just oppositional or marginal) alignments and 'networks' (in
the social sense, but maybe technical too). i think it's become
clear that civil society in G7-type countries will need resources
like this to continue their work, which, imo, isn't parochially
limited to G7-type concerns. that, of course, is a quintessentially
G7-type parochial concern; but i wouldn't be surprised if it co-
incided with the needs of civil socity in peripheral regions--
and that kind of contingent confluence of interests is really 
the heart and soul of these social-technical networks. there may
be another logic that's not so clear right now, but i'm content
to leave discovering it to the historians.


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