I am asking a question that might seem almost dumb but am not so sure it is. Just because we have repeated something many times does not make it true. Internet is, above all else, a decentralized communication system. It is decentralized because as a network of networks it allows other networks to be added on as long as they abide by certain protocols. However just because a communication system is decentralized it does not mean its configuration was meant to decentralize social power structures. The technological effects of the internet is to build the internet itself which it achieves through the principle of ‘open-ness’ and is reflected in actions, standards and protocols at several levels. The relation between technology and humans however is “external” to the technology. The effects of a technology are a product of the interaction of its components with other components, where each component has a purpose and is a technology in itself. The subjectivity of humans can be (is) imposed on the technology towards ends that may be socially desirable but it does imply that it was the constitutive configuration of its components. To achieve socially desirable results what is required is the need to change the conditions under which technology can interact with humans to “improve the quality of life of all”.
So to assert that Internet ought to have been equalizing social and economic opportunity is highly problematic. Not because internet does not afford social and economic opportunities but the “equalizing” attribute points to a broad set of assumptions about the configuration of the technology to achieve that. Which it does not have. The “equalizing” attribute is not in the DNA of the technology, however open-ness to a large extent is. Recognizing this distinction is important, especially when we employ the technology for achieving socially desirable results. The factors that contribute to dismantling unjust power structures, bringing inclusiveness as the “effects” of technology are outside of it. As long as we keep this in perspective then the employment of technology for social, economic and political gains can be understood perhaps in more “realistic” terms and measured appropriately.
As Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grunberg and Marc Stern said in 1999, “… the Internet is a global public good whose publicness has to be deliberately sought.” So if internet were to have an equalizing effect it has to be sought but cannot be attributed to its existence. They continue to explain, “At a global level, it is equally important to ensure global public goods are accessible to all, especially if the production effort has been a shared endeavor”. Again this points us to the fact that technology by itself is not the solution but “access” to it, and its many services, is what will allow it to change power structures into favorable terms for the dis-empowered.