“This is not your ordinary history of the Internet. Scott Malcomson has brilliantly extended the connections between Silicon Valley and the military back far beyond DARPA—back, in fact, to World War I. If you want to understand the conflict between cyberspace utopians and the states and corporations who seek to dominate our virtual lives, you’ve got to read this book.” —James Ledbetter, editor, Inc. Magazine
“In elegant prose powered by deep research—and with a surprisingly vivid cast of characters—Scott Malcomson shows how profound the relationship is between the state and the Internet. As major powers try to assert control over the Web, Splinternet illuminates both how we got to this point and how to move forward.” —Parag Khanna, global contributor, CNN, and author ofConnectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization
There’s always been something universalizing about the Internet. The World Wide Web has seemed both inherently singular and global, a sort of ethereal United Nations. But today, as Scott Malcomson contends in this concise, brilliant investigation, the Internet is cracking apart into discrete groups no longer willing, or able, to connect. The implications of this shift are momentous.
Malcomson traces the way the Internet has been shaped by government needs since the 19th century—above all, the demands of the US military and intelligence services. From World War I cryptography and spying to weapons targeting against Hitler and then Stalin, the monolithic aspect of the digital network was largely determined by its genesis in a single, state-sponsored institution.
In the 1960s, internationalism and openness were introduced by the tech pioneers of California’s counter-culture, the seed bed for what became Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple. But in the last 15 years, security concerns of states and the privatizing impetus of e-commerce have come to the fore and momentum has shifted in a new direction, towards private, walled domains, each vying with the other in an increasingly fragmented system, in effect a “Splinternet.”
Because the Internet today surrounds us so comprehensively, it’s easy to regard the way it functions as a simple given, part of the natural order of things. Only by stepping back and scrutinizing the evolution of the system can we see the Internet for what it is—a contested, protean terrain, constantly evolving as different forces intervene to drive it forward. In that vital exercise, Malcomson’s elegant, erudite account will prove invaluable.
Scott Malcomson's Splinternet is the "history of" the Internet. It is the story of the Internet and how, why and where it is evolving.
Thankfully he has written a clear and non-technical outline of how the most ubiquitous tool on Earth came into being. As a believer of the human aspects of the technology, I find the title a bit pessimistic but that simply exposes my bias toward the Californiaization of the Internet post its military origins.
What is clear is that the Internet, like nations and commerce is always changing and is influenced by power and black swans.
There is no assurance that it will remain the Internet we all know and love (or not) and there is value for every netizen to remain engaged and informed about our virtual and augmented world.
Off to a solid start
The first half of the book does a great job of outlining the history of computing with the help of the US government. However the book begins to loose focus as it approaches the 1970s and 1980s. To speak of Arpanet and the emergence of computer to computer communication without even mentioning TCP/IP seems an odd omission. By the time the author reaches the 2000's and 2010's he is completely scattered in his comments.