A Distributed Web

By Paula LaBrot
Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot

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There is so much craziness going on in the oligarchic tech world right now…so many politically entwined, power hungry, greedy scary, dark behaviors that I choose in this column to look at the new and exciting advances in technology that will offer fresh alternatives to the concentrated power that social media giants currently enjoy. But first, a little history that may surprise you. History Repeats Itself Over and Over The Technocrocy Movement emerged in the early 20th century and, according to Wikipedia, “proposed replacing politicians, businesspeople and capitalism with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to manage the economy.” These elite professionals would run the country. The country would be one, consolidated nation…no individual states. The currency would be in units of energy, like joules. There would be no input from citizens… no voting, no representative government. It would be like a corporation, with an appointed CEO and appointed department heads. Like most economic/political movements, the goal was to seize control of the economic engine of the world. The “currency” might have been in units of energy, but a few folks were still going to be a lot richer and more powerful than most. Most everyone else would be kind of like…a citizen serf. Very Stalinist. It’s always about getting power and consolidating it. Aldous Huxley was looking at Technocracy when he wrote “Brave New World,” where he questions who will be in control, the individual or the collective. Right down to now, we still have the same old story of the perils of concentrated power. We have this amazing, miraculous technology, so capable of good service to humanity, becoming more and more monetized, weaponized, and perverted by the tech oligarchs of today. There are many heroes in the battle for freedom in the information wars. These Knights of the Net are developing and offering up alternative structures for a brighter cyber future. A Bit of Vocabulary Building You need this to understand the future! In the last column, we talked about the decentralization of the web. Breakermag.com suggests you first understand what the web is. “The internet is not the web… The internet is the network itself, the vast system of wires and cables and radio signals and data transport protocols that allow for connection between the billions of online devices across the world,”computers, tablets, phones, etc. The world wide web is a way to send a certain type of information over the internet using a protocol called HTTP. Protocols are the rules or “language” that make back and forth exchanges between your browser (search engines like Google, Safari, Duckduckgo) and the places where web resources (information and websites you are searching for) are hosted. The places that host the web resources (content) are called servers, which are computers. These computers are located somewhere. They exist in time and space. Huge stacks of them. These expensive, powerful computers and their server software are connected to the internet all the time, and their job is to send us the information we request. This is called the client/ server model. You, the user, are the client and the server delivers the information you seek. When someone builds a website that you want to find or participate on, that website must be hosted on a server so you, the client, can access it. Companies like Amazon Web Services charge a fee for hosting a website. As Corin Fife at Breakermag observes, “Paradoxically, while there’s a greater diversity of content and services online than ever before, control over the hosting and distribution of these services is more concentrated than it has ever been.” That means a very few people control the flow of information. Why, good heavens, they may even shut a website down! And, by the way, that is their right as a private company. Except they are using all that infrastructure… the internet…which many people see as a public utility at this point. Fife points out the danger. “Our experience as Internet users is now largely shaped by the influence of the Big Five tech companies: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. As early as 2012, science-fiction author and technology futurist Bruce Sterling said that these five “stacks” were becoming the internet. For similar reasons, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the HTTP protocol and de facto father of the web, has spoken frequently about the need to actively resist web centralization so as to keep his creation in the hands of the people.” Instead of having centralized servers under the control of a hosting company, current freedom techies are working on creating a distributed web. A distributed web means that content is hosted by lots of little providers around the world instead of large server farms owned by corporate oligarchs. When you post content to the distributed web, it is stored on all of your devices and other people’s devices on the network who are using the same protocol. They store your content open or encrypted (no one can read/see it without a key from you) and you store theirs. Your content is mirrored (copied) across everyone’s devices, so there is no single point of decision making, failure or control. Your content will never go offline if there are enough peers on the network. Of course, this is dependent on a large enough group of peers to be online at one time. And there are tradeoffs to do with less convenience finding things, security and content that is ugly by any standard. But the protocols and the platforms/apps, are growing in number and maturity every day. heck, our Interplanetary File System and Holochain to broaden your knowledge. The main thing is this kind of architecture keeps power from being concentrated and will prevent the kind of alarming tactics Big Tech has been using lately. Remember, whoever controls information, controls the world. The distributed web is not here yet, but at the speed things change today, we could be using it before we know it. It’s Power to the People! The Knights of the Net to the rescue! Hi-Ho Cyber….and Away! Vamos a ver!
Paula Labrot

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February 5, 2021

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