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Is the Internet a Technology or a Space?


At Michigan State University’s “Commodification, Technoculture, and the Human” conference, presenter and author from Simon Fraser University Andrew Feenberg acknowledged the internet as a technology and compared it to a “wheel chair ramp”. It took me by surprise, as I would hold that the internet is NOT a technology, but a space…software, for instance, is analogous to the “wheel chair ramp” – simply because of its ability to possess ambiguous functionality relative to its user. The specific designation of the “wheel chair ramp” is important, because it could be identified as a “skateboard ramp” to some skateboarder, right!?…Similar to how the LinkedIn application could serve multiple purposes depending on the user.

Perhaps the internet requires much more definition, as the roots of the word can be confusing. Inter: situated within – Net: any network or reticulated system of filaments or the like. Its terminology is synonymous with the “web” or a web, which requires multiple linkages to points of initiation in order to exist well. If this is the internet that Feenberg is referring to then I’d think it accurate. However, the internet is not actually a web of ever connected points. Information destinations are not required.

The internet is analogous to space. Regardless of whether or not we access space, its potential exists – we can access or insert entities of sorts into the space regardless of, if another user were present to receive information of sorts from the distributed. Space is a dynamic system of expanding material potential as is the internet’s material potential. The potential of the internet expands as users (or rather, potential users) access to the internet expands – access could come in many forms including, user population(s) growth or by computing speed or by computing power… The internet, regardless of the constraints of the word, it cannot be identified as a specific technology.

Feenberg’s internet analogy using the ramp came from a paper that he presented on how mediation or rather, bureaucratic regulation, should shape use of the internet space. Of course, his presentation regarded the internet as a technology which is much more suitable to be regulated than a space – similar to regulating the building of space-penetrating vessels through standards and institutions instead of regulating the actual engagement of space. It reminds me of Billy Bob Thorton’s movie The Astronaut Farmer. These types of mediation would (will, per Feenberg) occur from an access, speed, and power standpoint.

From an economic standpoint there is a price threshold that divides users from non-users of the potential space of the internet, and while the older generation of participants of this conference firmly expressed their pessimism sentiments and about private industry’s ability to suppress the pervasive engagement of space, I honestly resented their lack of activist zeal. They’re generations’ willingness to allow an ownership ideology to pervade the legal will of our society’s engagement of its potential is stifling…I’ll save that argument for later…lol…

It would be silly to suggest that Feenberg hasn’t provided some valuable contribution to the philosophy of technology and the exploration of critical theory, but his inability to forecast an age of increasing segmentation of networking technological use by sentient beings and suggest that we may need to accept the inevitability of using a weak or regulated AI (artificial intelligence) for IT (information technology) ontological rationale out of our diverse set of interactions shows 1) a lack of ambition or vision, 2) his age, and 3) his discipline specific, novice. It makes me wonder more about if philosophical explorations alone can produce robust stances on modern issues of sorts. A bureaucratic regulatory style or establishment of institutions subject to potentially elitist bias is yet another band-aid to the “problem” of technological pursuits…..human kind has the potential to be past the age of the band-aid.

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