Thirty three years have passed since the World Wide Web (WWW) was established in March 1989 and nearly three decades since the WWW became accessible for general purposes around 1993-1994. In the early years of the WWW (as an estimate, anytime between 1994 and 2004), the WWW resembled a vast, open and unclaimed digital landscape for anyone and everyone. The notion of international borders or the concept of national sovereignty existing in the digital realm did not exist. To an Individual who was accessing it for the first time, the WWW seemed like a place that had yet to be tamed, where anyone could claim their own part of the Internet by creating a website domain. And even though the early Internet originated as an interconnected series of government and university computer networks, that was the general impression for average people.
Spearheaded by US technology firms, a whole new Economic Sector began emerging throughout much of the 1990s. This “Information Sector” set the precedent for new forms of economic activity that even the Individual can initiate and sustain. Over time, as more people were connecting and the Internet itself became integrated with the world offline, the WWW saw the emergence of social media platforms by the early 2000s. Despite having a relatively small presence at first, social media expanded throughout that decade before becoming ubiquitous around the beginning of the early 2010s. Together with the rise of the smartphone, social media rose in prominence and soon concentrated the vast majority of Internet traffic and usage into several well-known platforms.
Today, the WWW is still in the midst of constant change. As new websites appear and domains are registered, old ones cease to exist, leaving behind dead links on any number of still-active webpages that can still be accessed through most search engines. Important questions dating back to the early days of the WWW continued to persist, their implications still relevant for today and the foreseeable future. How many websites today can trace their origins back to the 1990s Internet, let alone the 2000s Internet? How many hyperlinks remain connected to sites which ceased to exist at one point? Is the Internet an extension of the world offline or a separate entity beholden to itself?
I began this Blog post with a brief summarization of the WWW because I wanted to direct the reader’s attention toward a particular period in its history. Namely, I am referring to the late 1990s and late 2000s, back when social media had yet to overcome the concurring proliferation of online communities and personalized blogs. Anyone who was online during those days may recall this time when discussion boards catered to a specific community of interests, rather than being a platform accommodating a wide variety of different communities. Back when video websites featured homemade videos from people who wanted to share their creations with the world. And yet, sometime around the late 2000s and early 2010s, the Internet underwent its fundamental shift. While it is true that social media platforms became more popularized from 2010 onward, there is another interpretation of this trend which dates all the back to the 1990s.
In the 1990s, a number of early Internet users began adhering to the idea that because the WWW is a borderless, stateless realm where anything goes between Individuals from different parts of the world, the importance of national sovereignty will disappear. No central government will be able to assert any effort aimed at ‘nationalizing’ its portion of the WWW nor will it be capable of ‘isolating’ its national life from the WWW. There are still some people who continue to give credence to this idea, as the proliferation of Silicon Valley tech firms and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin can attest. But just as this trend was beginning to peak around the 2010s, there has also been a growing desire for nations to assert “Digital Sovereignty” within the digital realm. The motives range from wanting to protect national sovereignty to the belief that the Silicon Valley firms are unresponsive and wield too much power over what happens online.
I briefly touched on this subject before in The Work-Standard as the “Splinternet,” the idea of ‘splintering’ the WWW into an “international Internet” connected to various “national Intranets” controlled by different nations and maintained by their governments. A national Internet, I argued, was deemed as the necessary prerequisite for any nation, regardless of ideology, to assert its Digital Sovereignty. I even went to insist that the national Internet is more compatible with the Work-Standard by allowing the Socialist Nation to facilitate an array of digital economic activities which would not otherwise be possible under a Liberal Capitalist regime. One good example is the contribution of “Digital Arbeit” by an Individual and their registered website on the national Intranet, which can then be transmuted into “Digital Geld” at the “LERE Refinery” before finally becoming “Actual Geld” by the Central Bank at the Life-Energy Reserve.
What I did not mention within my discussions of the Splinternet in The Work-Standard was the greater ease of developing community, camaraderie, and solidarity on a national Intranet. I am convinced that this will be the case. The more I read about the early Internet, especially before the Internet was accessible to the general public, the more I began to arrive at this conclusion. There was in fact a sense of community among what few users there were around during the Internet’s early years. That general sentiment went away once the Internet became more available in the mid-1990s and well into the 2000s, which ties in with the aforementioned trend in the 2010s. But why would that be the case? Is it easier to develop personal connections on a smaller information network under a nation’s jurisdiction?
Consider this post as the opening introduction to a three-part series of posts where I will delve into the question of Digital Sovereignty beyond The Work-Standard. Over the course of the next two posts, I will be providing an historical look at the economic history of the WWW and the concept of internet governance. My hope is that by completing this series of posts, some conclusions may be drawn as to where the WWW is heading with regard to the concept of the Splinternet.