Prof. Robert Heverly, Albany Law School – Who Controls the Internet?

Feb 5, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Professor Robert Heverly of Albany Law School explores the legal implications surrounding differing definitions of the Internet.

Robert Heverly is an assistant professor of law at Albany Law School. His teaching and research interests include property and land use law, intellectual property and copyright law, and cyberspace and communications law.  He is also a fellow with the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, where he retains an affiliation as a faculty fellow. He earned his J.D. at Albany Law School.

About Prof. Heverly

Prof. Robert Heverly – What Is the Internet and Who Controls It?

We are all connected to the Internet. With our phones. With our computers. With our televisions. With our cars. We buy, sell, read, write, navigate, and learn on the Internet. It has become an integral part of the world economy. But what is this thing that is so important to our lives today? What is the Internet?

The answer depends on your perspective. In 1996, in the early days of the modern Internet, John Perry Barlow claimed the new technology was “the home of Mind.” This reflected an exceptionalist view: the Internet was different, special. Scholars joined in and the notion of “Cyberspace as place” was born.  Pushing back, others argued that “there is no ‘there’ there,” that the Internet is just another communications medium, a series of interconnected computers. Senator Ted Stevens famously called the Internet, “a series of tubes.” Which is it? A special place, or a technology?

Maybe there is another choice, a third perspective. Let’s start here: the Internet is nothing without us, its users. The Internet both is and represents our embodied, lived experience, and through our experience we give it its shape, its substance. Our histories, our memories, our thoughts and our expression fill and define it. In this way, Barlow was right: The Internet is the home of Mind. The Internet is our collective mind; it grows and changes as we, collectively, grow and change. It is not a separate place, or fully distinct from us. We are connected to it and embedded within it.

Realizing this is important. It is important to how the Internet continues to develop. It is important to deciding who has control on the Internet. It is important to knowing what is happening on the Internet. The Internet is the place of Mind, our Mind. Who controls our Mind controls us.