ℹ️nternet age institutions¶
Right, we've taken back the web! Now what?
It's time for a story. One summer's day in England, a fine young gentleman is out for a stroll, or to "take the air" as refined young English gentlemen say. On that fabled island, there is an old law called "Free Reign", which specifies that farmers must keep at least one path open to the public through their land in order that those so inclined might take the air uninterrupted. However, on this fateful day, our fine young English gent happens upon a fence blocking his path. He quickly becomes rather annoyed that some unthinking peasant, I mean farmer, has dared to spoil his wonderful stroll and so - with an air of legal, nay, righteous justification - he kicks down the fence and proceeds. Of course, he is just as quickly trampled by the Brahmin bull in the field, whom the fence was preventing from escaping into some unsuspecting and ill-equipped English village.
This story is known as Chesterton's Fence and has many versions, including a very beautiful one about a lamp, a monk, and the philosophy of light. The moral is: don't break down barriers the function of which you do not fully understand. Much like we first introduced the subversive joy of Ethereum and then returned to a deeper understanding of the current financial system; now that we've looked at what it might mean to reclaim the web as a creative and collaborative commons, we must go back and understand more clearly what kinds of institutions we may need to keep our world wide web safe to walk through gaily.
That said, institutions need not be things like The Federal Reserve, or a government department, or a place you go when you need to spend some time separate from society. We have - for instance - the institution of marriage: which is a practice or a custom. It is in this sense which we will be using the word for the rest of Module 4.
This is because the internet routes information around slow-moving bureaucracies and so requires that we update the practices and customs we use to relate to one another and organize ourselves. In particular, it has caused - and will continue to cause - critical shifts in three spheres of human life: how we identify ourselves, how we reach consensus, and how we experience time. This is a big claim, so let's dive right in.